Category Archives: Greece

European Union demands more austerity in Greece

By Robert Stevens 
13 April 2013
Officials from the “troika” of the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank held talks with representatives of the Greek coalition government this week, calling for more social cuts amid an on-going economic collapse in Greece.
The talks are centred on the demands by the “troika” for further austerity measures in exchange for the disbursement to Greece of a €2.8 billion tranche from a €130 billion loan previously agreed. Also under discussion are the terms for the release of a further €6 billion due for the second quarter of the year.
None of this “bailout” money ever reaches Greece’s impoverished population. It is all immediately handed over to pay off debts to the banks. Greece has bonds worth €5.6 billion set to expire on May 20, which it must pay to the bondholders.
The talks had not been concluded by Friday when Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras left Athens to attend an informal meeting of the Eurogroup in Dublin. Various sources reported that the New Democracy-PASOK-Democratic Left government largely accepted the troika’s demands, however.
Speaking in Dublin, Eurogroup president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem demanded that Greece “speed up its efforts” to comply with the troika’s programme.
The EU pressed these demands on Greece as it emerged that, less than a month after imposing painful austerity measures on Cyprus, a further €6 billion of cuts are to be imposed. This means that the total austerity measures in Cyprus—whose population is barely over one million—equate to each man, woman and child handing over €27,000.
The latest talks in Greece resumed after the troika halted negotiations in February, arguing Athens was violating its instructions. These centred on the issue of the number of public sector layoffs. The troika has demanded the public sector payroll be reduced to 150,000 by 2015, including the sacking of 7,000 workers this year and 20,000 in 2014.
The troika has also opposed the merger of the National Bank of Greece and Eurobank, two of Greece’s largest banks, meaning both indebted institutions would be forced to seek separate recapitalisations to be covered by the state’s coffers. It is estimated that this will cost another €15.6 billion.
At the beginning of the talks, Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras reportedly told the troika that he didn’t expect the current government to last if the troika insisted on even more austerity. With millions living in unbearable poverty, fuelled by rampant unemployment approaching 30 percent and almost 60 percent among those under 25, the government anticipates a social explosion.
Figures this week revealed that 3,400 people lost their job every working day in the first month of the year. A similar rate of job losses for a country the size of the United States would mean the loss of approximately one million jobs per month. The EU’s policy of imposing such cuts on a society in economic free-fall is politically criminal.
The To Vima newspaper reported Stournaras telling the troika, “Do not push us any further. If you want more measures, take the keys to the finance ministry and give them to Tsipras.” Alexis Tsipras is the leader of the opposition party Syriza, Coalition of the Radical Left.
The government sought to reassure the troika that it would carry through job cuts, but through a policy mainly of attrition, not firings. Before the talks, Administration Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis of the Democratic Left told Michalis Papagiannakis of the Centre for Political Reflection (linked to the Democratic Left), “There were 32,000 retirements from the public sector in 2012 and the reduction in the total number of civil servants by 2015 will be 180,000.”
The right-wing daily Kathemerini noted, “Sources close to the minister said on Thursday that the troika’s call for 20,000 layoffs by the end of next year is over and above what Greece committed to in the second loan agreement it signed last year,” adding that if the troika insisted on that deadline, “Manitakis is likely to withdraw from the talks and allow other government officials to continue talks.”
Notwithstanding Manitakis’ posturing, the coalition parties uniformly insist that the cost of the crisis is imposed on the backs of the working class and poorest sections of society. The coalition has only tactical disagreements with the troika over the cuts.
Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the hated social-democratic PASOK party who unleashed the first wave of austerity in 2010, endorsed public sector job cuts this week.
He said the troika were looking at the public sector, “correctly I think, from the point of view of structural reform. Our credibility rests on this issue; it will determine whether we here in Greece really want deep structural reforms—a different state that can function in a manner that is friendly toward investment, toward growth and foremost toward the citizen, and to this we must give a positive answer.”
The government continues to impose savage measures against the population. Prior to the troika’s arrival, the hated “emergency” property tax, imposed in 2011 in the initial austerity drive and payable by residents in buildings with an electricity meter only, was extended as a general tax on all properties. It will be collected by regular tax authorities in 2014.
Reports also attest that Athens is preparing to meet a central troika demand to sack 2,000 workers by June, on the spurious grounds that they are allegedly not honouring the civil service “oath.”
Workers accused of disciplinary offenses now face losing their jobs. According to Kathemerini, Manitakis is mainly concerned that employees should not be sacked without a hearing and “is reportedly seeking ways to accelerate the process of disciplinary hearings.”
A legislative formula to carry this out is reportedly being drawn up. Laws apparently being considered are the creation of a centralized disciplinary board to judge all cases of public servants and the elimination of the salary of employees who have been suspended until their case is closed.
The coalition, backed by a pliant media, are past masters at the demonisation of public sector workers, constantly referring to them as part of an “over-bloated” monstrosity sapping the entire resources of tax payers.
To this end, clearly timed to coincide with the troika visit, the government set into motion a filthy campaign to further stigmatise and slander public sector workers. A seven day series of surprise inspections by state officials on five ministries—Finance, Administrative Reform, Education, Health and Tourism—was held during the visit. Kathemerini eagerly reported Thursday that they suggested that, “a significant proportion of civil servants are consistently failing to turn up to work.” It added, citing no evidence, “In the case of the Education Ministry, 20 percent of the employees were unjustifiably absent.”

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The Greek Catastrophe: Three Generations of Greek Workers

By James Petras
March 04, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – As Greece enters the sixth year of Europe’s worst economic depression, with 30% of its labor force unemployed and over 52% of its youth jobless, the entire social fabric is unraveling; a suicide rate are skyrocketing and close to 80% of the population is downwardly mobile. Family and inter-generational relations are deeply impacted; previous certainties evaporate. Uncertainties, fear and anger evoke daily mass protests. Over a dozen general strikes have drawn Greeks from middle school pupils to octogenarians in a desperate struggle to conserve the last shreds of dignity and material survival.
The European Union and its Greek collaborators pillage the treasury, slash employment, salaries and pensions, foreclose on home mortgages and raise taxes. Household budgets shrink to one half or one third of their previous levels.
In a growing number of households, three generations are living under one roof, barely surviving on their grandparents’ shrinking pensions; some households on the brink of destitution. The prolonged – never ending and worsening – capitalist depression has caused a deep rupture in the life cycle and living experiences of grandparents, parents and children. This essay will focus on grandfathers, fathers and sons due to greater familiarity with their life experiences
The intergenerational rupture can best be understood in the context of the contrasting ‘life experiences’ of the three generations: The focus will be on work, political, family and leisure experiences.
Work Experiences: The Grandfathers
The grandfathers’ families in most cases migrated from rural areas or small towns during the post-civil war period (1946-49) and many settled in the poor suburbs of Athens. Most barely finished secondary school and found poorly paid employment in textile, construction and public enterprises. Trade unions were non-existent, ‘semi-clandestine’ and subject to harsh repression by the US-backed rightist regimes into the early 1960’s. By the mid to late 1960’s the grandfathers gravitated toward the ‘center-left’ parties and the revival of trade union activity. This was especially the case among the growing assembly plant and public sector workers in the electrical, telecommunication, seaports and transport industries. The US-backed coup in 1967 and the resulting military junta (1967-1973) had a dual impact: Outlawing trade unions and collective bargaining, on the one hand, and stimulating foreign investment-led economic growth and corporate style clientelism on the other.
The clandestine anti-dictatorial struggle, the student uprising and infamous massacre at the Polytechnic University (1973) and the collapse of the military dictatorship following its abortive coup in Cyprus, radicalized the grandfathers. Legalization of political parties and trade unions led to a surge of trade union organizations, struggles and social advances. Wage increases accompanied the fall of junta. Entry into the European Union and the large-scale influx of ‘social cohesion funds’ led to an expansion of public sector employment and increased political party clientelism extending well beyond the traditional right-wing regimes.
Job security, pensions and increases in severance pay created a relatively secure and stable labor force except in the manufacturing sectors, which were harmed by imports from the more industrialized EU ‘partners’.
With the election of the Pan Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) in 1981, populist welfare legislation and wage increases served as a substitute for any consequential socialization of the economy. The economic and social security gains were steady, cumulative and led to rising living standards. The grandfathers joined trade unions, their leaders negotiated wage and workplace improvements and they faced the future with relative optimism: A comfortable retirement, better educated children and a modest paid-up apartment and small automobile. They looked forward to enjoying leisure time with family, friends and neighbors. Or so it seemed in the run-up to the Greek Catastrophe of 2008.
As we shall see Greece’s economic progress was built on rotten foundations – on EU loans that were secured through fraudulent accounts, a public treasury pillaged by bipartisan kleptocrats and public ‘investments’ in large-scale unproductive clientelistic activities with corrupt business ‘partners’. In a word, the ‘golden years’ of the grandfathers’ comfortable retirement was based on the illusion that a half-century of work and social advances would translate into a respectable dignified life.
The Fathers: Work and Play and Play Later
The fathers were urban born, better educated than the grandparents and highly influenced by the consumer ethos that permeated Greece. They entered the labor market in the early 1990’s. They saw themselves as more ‘European’, less nationalist, less class conscious and less involved in social struggles than the previous generation. Interest in sports and celebrities and their own social advancement precluded any engagement in the great social struggles of the grandfathers. They experienced rising salaries through top-down negotiations. They paid no attention to the grotesque enrichment of the kleptocratic socialist political elite and they ignored the growing debts, both personal and public, which ‘funded’ their overseas vacations, the second home and the imported German cars. They paid handsomely for tutors to prepare their children for the University entry exams. Their future was assured by ever more optimistic (falsified) government data and the positive assessments by EU experts. Trade unions and business associations focused exclusively on current increases in salaries, revenues, cheap credit and access to the latest techno toys.
The fathers spoke English, welcomed ever-greater European integration and discarded the doubts and criticism that the grandfathers directed at NATO and Israeli wars, inequalities within the EU and the effects of economic liberalization. They ignored the criticism of the close ties between the PASOK kleptocrats, local and overseas bankers, ship owners and millionaire plutocrats.
Cynicism was their ‘modernist response’ to pervasive corruption and growing indebtedness. As long as they got theirs why challenge the status quo? With the onset of the 
Greek Catastrophe, the fathers lost it all – jobs, social security, homes, cars and vacations. The ‘Europeanists’ among them suddenly became virulent critics of the Euro bankers – ‘the Troika’ –, which mandated that the fathers should sacrifice everything they possessed in order to save the kleptocratic rulers, the millionaire tax evaders and the indebted bankers. The economic catastrophe gradually eroded and finally shattered the ‘modern European’ consumerist consciousness of the upwardly mobile middle and working class fathers.
First they suffered successive salary cuts and then they lost their job security, followed by massive firings with and without severance pay.
Dismay, fear and uncertainty were followed by the recognition that they were facing the financial firing squad. They realized they were trapped in an unending free fall. They took to the streets and discovered that their entire generation and their entire class was uprooted and discarded. The fathers discovered they were worthless and they had to march and struggle to reaffirm their self-worth.
Sons: ‘Who Works?’
The vast majority of sons are unemployed: Over 55%, by the beginning of 2013, have never had a job. Each day and each week their numbers grow as entire families are impoverished and households disintegrate. School attendance has fallen off, as the prospects of employment disappear and the specter of long-term large-scale unemployment haunts everyday life. The prospects of establishing stable couples and new families among the young are non-existent.
‘Street culture’ has multiplied and the video arcades are more often places to meet rather than to play. Attendance at ‘pop concerts’ has fallen while the sons now turn out in greater numbers at mass protest marches. The growing politicization and radicalization of the sons now begins in the middle school and deepens in secondary and technical schools and the university.
Many, by their late 20’s, have never had a job, never moved out of their parents or grandparents home and cannot envision a future marriage or family. The lack of work experience means a lack of workplace comradeship and union membership. In its place is the centrality of informal, peer group solidarity. Perspectives for work focus on emigration, hustling for a miserable odd job or joining the struggle. Today they wander the streets in anger, despair and deep frustration. As the years pass, the sons increasingly vote for the Left (Syrian) but are fed-up with the ineffectual parliamentary opposition, the ritual marches and the inconsequential social forums, featuring local and overseas radical lecturers who spin theories about the crisis but who have never lacked a job or missed a paycheck. The vast majority of the young unemployed feel that ‘words are cheap’. The intellectuals, new-left politicians and overseas Greeks do not resonate with their day-to-day experience and offer no tangible solutions. Sons have joined with anarchist street fighters. So far few of the unemployed sons have responded favorably to the neo-Nazi appeal of the Golden Dawn. But they are hardly enthusiastic over the Left’s embrace of immigrant job seekers, especially when their neighborhoods are victimized by Albanian, Middle Eastern and Balkan drug dealers and pimps
Political Experience: The Grandfathers and the Radical Legacy
The grandfathers’ political trajectory differs sharply from their progeny. Many of their own parents were partisans in the Communist-led million-member national liberation movement (ELAS-EAM). They fought the Italian fascists and the German Nazi occupation army and took an active part in the civil war. Following the Anglo-American intervention and defeat of the insurgents, hundreds of thousands of Greeks were sent to slave labor/concentration camps, where many died. Villagers and farmers were savagely repressed and driven off their land. Property was confiscated and millions migrated to the cities in search of anonymity and employment. When the Communist Party was outlawed, many members and ex-members joined ‘progressive parties’, the United Democratic Left (EDA) in search of an alternative.
The grandfathers came to political age with the revival of ‘populist politics’ in the early 1960’s, promoted by the Center Union Party. After the 1967 coup, they faced six years of US-backed military rule (1967-73). Under junta rule, some grandfathers engaged in clandestine political and trade union activity. With the collapse of the junta, most grandfathers joined the newly formed Socialist Party led by a radicalized Andreas Papandreou. The post-junta 1970’s were a period of intense political debate and the proliferation of previously suppressed Marxists books, lectures, journals, forums and popular cultural events. Mikis Theodorakis, the great Communist composer, drew tens of thousands to his concerts, many of them workers, evoking scenes similar to Pablo Neruda’s poetry readings to the thousands of workers and peasants in Chile. In the election of 1981, the grandfathers voted overwhelmingly for the Left: PASOK won over 50% of the vote and the Communists received close to 15%. Almost two-thirds of Greeks, and over 80% of Greek workers, voted for socialism (or so they thought!). The grandfathers celebrated the defeat of the far right and over a half century of Nazi, US and right-wing military rule. The grandfathers had great hopes that Papandreou would fulfill his promise to ‘socialize’ the economy. They saw the electoral ascendancy of the Left as a prelude to a break with NATO and as a transition to an independent socialist welfare state. Despite several massive socialist and trade union conferences on ‘worker self-management of a socialized economy’ and the bankruptcy of scores of indebted private firms, Papandreou argued that ‘the crisis’ precluded an ‘immediate transition to socialism’. He argued the right wing’s capitalist recovery and only afterward could ‘socialist’ policies be implemented. He ignored the fact that it was the very capitalist crisis, which led to his election! Many grandfathers were disappointed but, Papandreou, with the skilled speeches of a populist balcony demagogue, proposed a series of substantial wage increases legalized and expanded labor rights and implemented and increased social welfare and pension payments. The grandfathers settled for the populist reforms and the de-radicalization of the political process. From mid-1980 onward, the grandfathers continued to vote Socialist, but now exclusively with the goals of economic gain and expanding social coverage in health and pension benefits.
Under Papandreou, PASOK degenerated into an inconsequential ‘gadfly’ within NATO. Its enthusiastic entry into the EEC and its maintenance of US military bases eroded the last vestiges of anti-imperialist activity among the grandfathers. They narrowed their focus and looked toward PASOK as a clientelistic political machine, necessary to secure employment and guarantee their pensions.
With the onset of the Economic Catastrophe in 2008 and the savage social cutbacks implemented by the utterly inept, corrupt and reactionary George Papandreou, Jr., the grandfathers felt the first shockwaves of instability and the threat of losing their secure and living pensions. By 2010, the grandfathers totally abandoned their support for PASOK. Revelations of corruption and the slashing of pensions by 35% drove the grandfathers into the streets in massive protests. Later, a majority voted for the new leftist SYRIZA Party.
The grandfathers have come full circle: Re-radicalization has accompanied the return of authoritarian rightwing rule under the colonial dictates of the European Troika.
But now the grandfathers’ pensions have to support three generations. Once again, the search for a new political party is as urgent as during the period immediately after the fall of the military junta.
The Fathers: The Politics of Downward Mobility
The fathers came to political age at the height of electoral clientelism. During the 1990’s they voted PASOK, without any of the ideals or illusions of the grandfathers; nor did they engage in any historic struggles. They voted the candidates and parties who provided access to credit and low interest loans and offered lucrative concessions or promotions within a highly politicized public administration. The fathers rarely addressed larger ideological issues. They saw the ‘capitalist versus socialist’ debates as an anachronism of the past. They studied English and Anglicized their speech and writings. They no longer paid attention to the negative consequences of Greece’s affiliation with NATO and the European Union. The big issues were Greece’s sponsorship of the Olympics and how to cash in on the spending spree and cost overruns. PASOK leaders set the example by taking their cut off the top of every building contract, cooking the books, evading taxes and consulting with Goldman Sachs on how to accumulate debts and convert deficits into surpluses. When the economic crisis hit, the fathers were caught unprepared. At first, they rationalized it, hoping ‘the crisis’ was temporary; that new loans would flow in to the rescue; that they – especially those in the public sector – would not be affected. As the Catastrophe ensued, the fathers abandoned their apathy and indifference: Political decisions now affected their salaries, their wages, their social benefits and their ability to pay their mortgages and credit card debt. Cynical conformity was replaced at first by uncertainty and anxiety. As the PASOK regime lowered the boom and signed off on the massive layoffs of public sector workers and salary reductions, the fathers first protested to ‘their’ leaders to no avail and then punished them via the ballot box. Most turned to the Left, joining SYRIZA, in hopes of regaining the past as much as constructing a new socialist future.
Sons: The Politics of No Future
The sons have come to political age having no prior experience of struggle or of upward mobility. They are stuck at the bottom or are in perpetual descent. Never having a job or any opportunity, they take action to affirm their existence, their presence and their capacity to act against wave after wave of savage EU-sponsored assaults on their everyday life. They join their fathers and grandfathers in the huge marches: inter-generational solidarity. But they alone carry the burden of never having been a member of a political party or a trade union and never having experienced ‘the good life’. They never received loans or political favors, but they are now expected to sacrifice their future in order to enrich the creditors, the tax evaders and the kleptocrats. Their political wisdom is rooted in their gut recognition that the entire political class is rotten; they have their own doubts about those politicos who abandoned PASOK, joined SYRIZA and now claim to be their saviors. They turn away from those academic political philosophers and journalists who speak a language and elaborate a discourse totally divorced from their everyday experience. They frankly question whether the Aesopian language of a dead Italian philosopher (Gramsci) can lead them out of this catastrophe. The overseas theorists may come and go, but life becomes ever more desperate. Some sons believe that only those who hurl a Molotov cocktail can bring temporary light into the dark tunnel of their everyday life. The most combative of the sons engage in street fighting and join the black bloc. The less audacious scan the Internet for ways to relocate, to emigrate: They reason that it would be better to emigrate to the imperial centers than to suffer a lifetime in this ravaged and plundered colony.
Family: Grandfathers and the Return of the Extended Family
The Sunday dinner was a hallmark of Grandfather’s time: A family gathering with roast lamb and potatoes, a peasant salad with feta cheese and olives and sweets for desert.
The grandparents upheld that practice until the Catastrophe put an end to another ‘fine family tradition’ – like everything else that was pleasurable. Three generations living together, under one roof, on one source of income (grandfather’s shrinking pension) is a situation not conducive to sustaining good relations. Savings diminish, debts accumulate and frustration leads to conflicts and resentments. Anger is occasionally directed against those closest to one’s heart. The loss of independence leads to arguments; family loans never get paid back. Meal times become moments to relate hardships. The easy banter, good humor and storytelling disappear in a miasma of worries over the next meal, the precarious household budget and the fruitless search for employment.
Meals have become a time to mull over the stresses of everyday survival.
Fathers: Families – A Precarious Safety Net
The fathers ask: ‘What will happen when my father dies and his pension disappears?’ ‘How can five of us survive when the regime, under orders from the Troika, has reduced my father’s pension by half?’ ‘How can two families live on 500 Euros a month?’ The last barrier to utter destitution for many fathers is the extended family, as social cuts reduce unemployment payments and savings are exhausted.
Prior to the Catastrophe, the fathers took their wives out to a taverna with other couples on Friday or Saturday night to hear the bouzouki and enjoy a full meal with mezedes, a carafe of good wine and plenty of laughs. Unlike the grandfathers, who patronized the neighborhood butcher and baker, the fathers shopped in multinational supermarkets and at malls, signs of European modernity and ‘cost effectiveness’ and paid with their credit card.
The vacations to London have become a distant memory. The family house in the Aegean is long sold, the proceeds spent to pay off debts. At most they can hope for a trip to the crowded, polluted beaches of Attica to escape a sweltering August weekend.
The Sons: Families are Where You Find Them
Family has become a grim affair, not a relief from the hopeless outside world: At home, it’s always ‘grieving time’. The sons come and go. They listen to music alone. Who wants to bring a girlfriend into a cramped bedroom with a grandmother’s disapproving look and sour faces everywhere. They walk to the corner, take a trip downtown to Exarchia and hang out in a doorway, a video arcade or shoulder a black flag in a march against the entire rotten mess, against the thieves, bankers and creditors. If their teacher dares to talk about ‘democracy and civic duties’ – and very few do, because even their jobs are in jeopardy – a lone giggle turns into a tsunami of laughter and insults; classes break-up and schoolmates meet to share a few moments of intimate friendship so lacking in the grim austerity of their disintegrating households.
Who cheers for their football team? Who jeers at the phony Papandreou, the porky face of Venizelos, the blood-sucking Stournaras and Samaras … Politicians smell like the putrid fish that even a starving cat wouldn’t touch. The sons attend meetings of SYRIZA. It’s all high minded and fierce denunciations with calls to action – but another march? Another call for ‘engaging the youth’? But the sons think: Here we sit; we are never in the front rows; we listen to them; they seem to know each other; they talk in codes that only they understand… So we wander out and smoke a joint or cadge a beer or meet friends and talk our own talk.
Paternalism, patriarchy and filial piety are all dead. Casual relations with no long-term perspectives are the new reality.
Leisure: Grandfathers: The Café as Refuge
The grandfathers have their own favorite neighborhood cafés. They walk past boarded-up businesses – over 160,000 bankruptcies since the onset of the Catastrophe. Nowadays, a cup of black coffee is the ticket to a table, a deck of faded cards that still show some of the colors of the kings and queens. There was a time, when in the course of an afternoon, a grandfather could order glasses of ouzo and plates of mezedes – Kasseri cheese and olives – for his card-playing comrades. Then the crack of the dominoes and the rapid movement of the backgammon chips would echo in the noisy, smoke-filled café. Now a waiter moves among the clientele looking for a stray tip. Even professional waiters are at a loss to survive in a crowded room of survivors. Where is the generation that will replace the grandfathers? The fathers won’t have any pension to pay their way to a cup of coffee and a seat in the café.
The Fathers: The End of European Leisure Time
The fathers once spent endless hours on the Internet, reading consumer ads to a background of pop music with English lyrics while planning weekend excursions. They watched televised football games on Sundays for discussion at Monday lunch with workmates or colleagues. It was not a luxurious life but it was a comfortable routine. Leisure time, spent with friends or family, with workmates and neighbors, was an enjoyable break from the stress of everyday work, a drive to the shore or to a pleasant outdoor country inn for a weekend dinner.
With the Catastrophe, leisure time is now enforced and plentiful: There are no stressful jobs; there are no jobs and no cash. Coins jingle deep in the pocket, perhaps enough to buy a liter or two of petrol to knock on closed doors that do not answer – or have nailed bankruptcy notices. So whom do you see and where do you go?
There is another political meeting where one can wave at friends, envious of those who still hold a job or those who pass out flyers for a meal. There are protest marches and the warmth and solidarity of the moment. There are the explosions of jeers at the well-dressed kleptocrats, holed up in the Congress or creeping out the backdoor after signing another death warrant – called an Order of Austerity – condemning another dozen to suicide for the coming week. Leisure-time now is not pleasure, it is worry: Who will pay the grandparents medical bills, the insulin injections, the son’s school fees, the car payments? Right, the mortgage payments are no longer an issue: The apartment has been repossessed. The father is ‘free’ from that obligation which is why he sleeps with his wife in a spare room at the grandparents. Those evenings of lovemaking are now sleepless nights of deepening anxiety. Restless sleep evokes nightmares of paranoid – or real- pursuit through dark labyrinths, running everywhere without direction or familiarity with the streets, the buildings or the people! The purpose in life is gone, along with the memories of happy excursions and future plans. Now, the overriding reality is finding a job – that dominates everything. The father faces the end of his unemployment payments. Will he and his family join a soup line: Will it be SYRIZA’s or the Golden Dawn’s? Whichever party offers a piece of chicken leg in the soup?
The Son: Leisure: Light, Blight and Street Fights
It was great fun, hanging out after school: The jokes, the joints, the public hugs and kisses. The ferry trips with back packs and the time spent studying with friends … the exams, difficult courses and the anxiety of having to choose a career in a few years. Those ‘worries’ have disappeared: The catastrophe eliminated the ‘problem course’, the difficulty of career choice … now even the teachers have left the classrooms – involuntary release – firings have thinned the offerings. The sons face a blighted future … any ‘career’ will do.
‘The biggest crooks do not rob a bank, they own one’ – a philosophy student told a crowd of sons as he demonstrated how to make a Molotov cocktail. A math major calculated the number of times local and overseas revolutionary scholars have mentioned the ‘crises’ in an hour and come up with an equation, which equaled zero positive outcomes. The loss of future perspectives and the burden of a grim home life are eroding all respect for a political and legal system that imposes destitution, indignities and humiliation in order to pay foreign creditors. ‘We pay them, so they can squat in the sun on our beaches, buy up our homes, eat our food, swim bare-ass in our ocean and then tell us we are lazy and deserve what misery we are getting.’
The timid, playful or fearful sons are growing up fast. Maturity begins at fifteen. The marches started earlier. Radical political loyalties followed. What next, ‘little man’?
The sons are a growing army of unemployed and maturing quickly. Today they are dispersed. Some want out – leave Greece … But most will stay … Will they organize and move beyond the current electoral opposition and fashion a new radical movement breaking with the rotten repressive electoral system? Can they become the militants for a new heroic resistance movement? Whose grandson will climb the walls of the Parliament and defy the colonial collaborators and their Troika masters. Who will raise the flag of a free, independent and socialist Greece?
James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books).

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Greek government imposes martial law on ferry strikers

By Christoph Dreier 
7 February 2013
On Tuesday evening, the Greek government imposed martial law on striking ferry workers and mobilized the police to break up their picket lines. The workers had gone on strike to protest against job losses and wage cuts and demand the payment of overdue wages. Some of the workers have received no wages for months.
The strike shut down sea transport between the Greek mainland and the country’s many islands, causing food shortages in smaller islands that have no airport.
Ferry crews went on strike last Thursday. The walkout was initially called for 48 hours, but was extended for two further 48-hour periods before it was broken by the government.
The New Democracy-led coalition government, which also includes the social democratic PASOK and the Democratic Left, invoked emergency powers late Tuesday in the form of a “civil mobilization,” formally conscripting the ferry workers into military service and ordering them to return to work. Workers who defied the order were subject to prison terms of up to five years.
On Wednesday morning, police occupied the central port of Piraeus to prevent workers from attempting to block the introduction of strike-breakers.
The Union of Seafarers (PNO) reacted to the imposition of martial law by immediately breaking off the strike. Greece’s two major trade union federations, ADEDY (Civil Servants’ Confederation) and GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers) on Wednesday called for solidarity strikes in the region of Attica, which includes both Athens and Piraeus.
The solidarity strikes were strictly limited, however. Buses and trams remained in their depots for just four hours and there were virtually no broader work actions in the public services. At noon on Wednesday, thousands of workers gathered in Piraeus to demonstrate against the government’s action. The demonstrators marched from the port to the Maritime Ministry.
The imposition of martial law against the ferry strikers came just two weeks after martial law measures were used to break a strike by Athens subway workers. The Greek state, in violation of basic democratic rights, is imposing a de facto ban on any effective strike action. It is also violating international laws that permit forced labor only within clearly defined limits.
The abolition of the right to strike and criminalization of striking workers hark back to the police state conditions that prevailed under the fascist regime of the Greek colonels some 40 years ago.
The Greek government has now resorted to martial law on four separate occasions to force striking workers back to work since the European Union began dictating austerity measures for Greece. Martial law was called against truck drivers in 2010, against striking refuse workers in 2011, and against the subway workers and ferry workers this month.
As soon as workers seek to carry out actions that go beyond symbolic trade union protests and seriously impact business interests, they are forced back to work by the state. Any form of effective collective resistance against the relentless austerity measures that have already cost tens of thousands of jobs and slashed wages and pensions has been effectively declared illegal, not only by the right-wing New Democracy, but also by PASOK and the Democratic Left (DIMAR), a split-off from SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left).
The virtual abolition of the right to strike is accompanied by increasing police brutality and the proliferation of police state methods. Last week it came to light that four suspected robbers with an anarchist background had been badly beaten by police following their arrest. Last year it was revealed that police handed out similar treatment to anti-fascist demonstrators. It is well known that a large percentage of police officers are members or supporters of the fascist Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) party.
The attack on the right to strike in Greece is being carried out in collaboration with and support from other European governments and EU institutions. The so-called “troika”—the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Commission and European Central Bank (ECB)—monitors every measure taken by the Greek government and has deployed observers to watch over specific Greek ministries. At the start of the year, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (ND) spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Berlin and was told in no uncertain terms that there could be no slowdown in the imposition of social cuts.
Having plunged the Greek population into social misery to satisfy the demands of the banks and speculators, the Greek state is now utilizing naked repression to suppress working class opposition. But Greece today is the face of Europe tomorrow. Just as Greece set the pace for the spread of austerity measures across the continent, so its turn to police state methods will be copied by governments across Europe.
An indispensable role in the imposition of these attacks is played by the trade unions in Greece and across Europe. Without the non-stop efforts of the Greek unions to dissipate and undermine workers’ resistance to austerity, it would have been impossible for the unstable government of Samaras to survive.
The European trade unions either tacitly or openly support the attacks on Greek workers, just as they collaborate in the attacks on workers in their own countries. They do not seriously oppose the de facto criminalization of strikes.
A spokesperson of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Emanuela Bonacina, told the World Socialist Web Site that her organization had no plans for action to defend the Greek ferry workers or oppose the assault on democratic rights in Greece. The issue had not even come up for discussion. A similarly dismissive reply came from the press office of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB).
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), to which the PTO is affiliated, restricted its response to a protest note to Samaras. ITF spokesman Sam Dawson told the WSWS: “The PTO asked us to intervene directly with the government, which we have done. If they need more help, they know they can count on the ITF.”
In Greece, the unions are trying to contain workers’ anger over the government’s actions with a handful of symbolic actions. Following the suppression of the subway workers strike last month they organized a few small solidarity actions, which they quickly ended so as not to threaten the government. The actions taken on Wednesday were of the same character.
The unions receive critical backing from pseudo-left groups such as SYRIZA and the Greek Communist Party (KKE). SYRIZA Chairman Alexis Tsipras traveled recently to Berlin and Washington to reassure the US and German governments that his party represented no danger and to guarantee the repayment of Greek debt. Tsipras has repeatedly emphasized that SYRIZA has no intention of overturning the government or forcing Samaras to resign.
KKE Chairman Aleka Papariga marched at the head of the demonstration in Piraeus and called for solidarity with the ferry workers. At the same time, the KKE’s own union federation, PAME, which has the strongest representation within the PNO, played the central role in calling off the strike.

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Refugees subject to vicious treatment by Greek, Italian police

By Martin Kreickenbaum 
28 January 2013
A report by Human Rights Watch documents the way in which Italian border police are deporting groups of asylum seekers to Greece without any attempt to examine their grounds for asylum.
Many unaccompanied children were among the deported refugees arriving from Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. Such group deportations constitute a blatant violation of internationally binding legal agreements and provide a classic example of the ruthless treatment meted out to refugees within the European Union (EU).
In the second half of 2012, Human Rights Watch interviewed 29 refugees deported from Italy to Greece. All testified to human rights violations and abuses committed by the Italian and Greek security authorities.
The refugees had tried to escape the life-threatening conditions in Greece by crossing the Adriatic Sea to Italy as stowaways. Following their discovery by Italian border guards, however, they were sent back to Greece within hours. There, they were handed over to the Greek police, often maltreated and imprisoned for weeks, without being accused of any crime.
The accounts of the human rights group are consistent with a report published by the Greek Refugee Council in conjunction with the German refugee aid organisation ProAsyl in the summer of 2012.
Group deportations violate both the Geneva Convention and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to these international accords, unaccompanied children are not to face deportation if it puts the child’s welfare at risk.
The Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR) also embodies the principle of “non-refoulement”. This prohibits deportation or refusal of entry at a border crossing if a refugee is threatened with torture or maltreatment, which is almost a daily occurrence in Greek refugee camps. Additionally, the signatory states of the refugee convention are obliged to submit asylum applications to due process. Expulsion of refugees without examining their reasons for flight is illegal.
Only one of the 13 children deported from Italy and interviewed by Human Rights Watch was medically examined by Italian police to determine his age. All the others were returned to Greece regardless of their age. The youngest was just 13 years old.
Fifteen-year-old Ali M. from Afghanistan was expelled without any attempt to establish his age. “I told them I’m 15, but they didn’t listen to me. First they took me to the ticket counter and then onto the ship,” he told Human Rights Watch.
None of the children had the chance to speak to a refugee counsellor or gain access to social services, which the UN convention states as mandatory. Instead, they were locked in the engine room or small cabins on the ferries, without access to basic sanitation and often without food.
Adult refugees are also routinely deported without having the opportunity to apply for asylum. Non-government organisations (NGOs), which are officially commissioned at the ports to support refugees and process asylum claims, are deliberately kept away from the refugees. This allows the border police to conclude the deportation process unobserved. In most cases, the refugees are even denied translators to enable them to communicate their request for asylum.
According to statements issued by the local border police, a regular asylum procedure was accorded to only 12 of the 900 refugees apprehended at the port of Bari between January 2011 and June 2012. All the others were immediately deported without any consideration of their reasons for flight. A similar process occurred at the ports of Ancona, Venice and Brindisi. Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch thus estimates that several thousand people are illegally deported by the Italian authorities every year.
The Italian government refused to end this practice in January 2011, when the European Court of Human Rights invoked the Dublin II Regulation to prohibit deportations to Greece because of continuing serious human rights violations on the part of the Greek asylum authorities.
According to this regulation, the responsibility for conducting official asylum procedure within the EU is assigned to the country that a refugee first enters. The Dublin II Regulation has led to the emergence within the EU of a gigantic deportation bureaucracy that transports refugees back into the country they allegedly first entered.
In December 2011, the European Court also prescribed a general screening of refugees’ conditions in the state to which they are due to be deported.
Because of these two decrees, numerous EU member states have suspended deportations to Greece. The Italian government, led by Prime Minister Mario Monti, was not prepared to do so, but announced it would check individual cases to determine whether refugees would be threatened with a violation of their human rights if they were to be deported. This has been exposed as a lie by the group deportations immediately after arrival, as documented by Human Rights Watch.
The catastrophic situation of refugees in Greece has now been extensively documented. In its report of December 2012, the Amnesty International human rights organisation described the situation there as a “humanitarian crisis in the middle of Europe”. Even Cecilia Malmström, the EU commissioner responsible for asylum affairs, described the conditions in the Greek refugee “reception centres” as “downright disgusting”.
These deportation prisons are hermetically sealed and guarded. The inmate’s only “crime” is to have entered the EU without permission in the hope of securing a better life. They must on occasion share a cell with more than 70 people, are given moldy bread to eat, and are accommodated in unhygienic and foul conditions. Even infants are occasionally detained for weeks on end.
The conditions are so unconscionable that a court in the Greek port of Igoumenitsa recently acquitted 15 refugees who had escaped from detention. The 15 refugees had been forced for months to endure living in a 15-square-metre cell 24 hours a day—without any fresh water, beds, showers or clean clothes. Some of them were infested with parasites and were suffering from typhoid infection. The court deemed that their escape was lawful because it was undertaken in order to protect health and life.
There is effectively no possibility of receiving a normal asylum process in Greece. Authorities in the city of Athens—with a current population of more than 3 million people—accept only about 20 cases a week for processing. All other refugees are forced to subsist on the streets of Athens as illegal immigrants without any financial or material support.
They thus become fair game for gangs of fascist thugs and especially the police. Since the Greek government initiated operation “Xenios Zeus” in August 2012, the police have been hunting down migrants and refugees. They have arrested more than 67,000 migrants as part of this campaign in Athens alone. More than 4,000 of these were incarcerated because they had no residence permits, and they will now be deported.
The refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch also reported abuse meted out by the Greek police in the form of punches, kicks, and being set upon by dogs. Seventeen-year-old Zamir M. from Afghanistan, who struggled through four years in Greece without accredited refugee status, said life in Greece was so hard that it might have been better for him to stay in Afghanistan, “even with the Taliban.”
Greece has become a test case with respect to how far the EU’s human rights standards in its refugee policy can be reduced. So far, the EU has done little more than shrug off the degrading and inhumane treatment of refuges in the detention centres.
EU commissioner Cecilia Malmström has merely paid lip service to demands for some “reception centres” to be closed because of the unacceptable conditions. In any event, her comments have not been able to deter countries like Germany, France and Austria from continuing to deport refugees to Greece legally.
The EU itself contributes a large portion of the funding for the construction and maintenance of refugee prisons. In 2012, the EU provided €90 million to help contain refugees within Greece and on its borders; most of this financing goes to the policing of borders and expansion of detention facilities. In contrast, only €4 million was made available for measures to assist in the “integration of third country nationals”, or for the support of accredited refugees.
The EU directive, “Standards for the Reception of Asylum Seekers”, which is due for adoption by the European Parliament, expressly intends the detention of refugees, as commonly practised in Greece, to become the norm for the whole of the EU. Even pregnant women and children will be allowed to be placed behind bars.
Moreover, the legislation does not even prescribe a maximum period of detention. Mention is only made of “the fastest possible processing”, a term that can be stretched a long way. In October, the Greek government ruled that the detention period of refugees could be extended to 12 months.
Refugees in the EU are not seen as people in need of support, but treated as lawless, criminal intruders.
Under pressure from the EU, the Greek government has also tightened its border controls. It has had a fence erected and a trench dug for patrol guards along the Evros border river between Greece and Turkey.
With reports of refugees drowning in inflatable boats slashed by Greek border police, people from Turkey seeking asylum in the EU are increasingly trying to escape across the sea to the Greek island of Lesbos. But the voyage across the Aegean Sea is extremely dangerous. In mid-December 2012, a boat with 28 refugees on board capsized, and only one of them survived.
In the meantime, more than 100 refugees have drowned off Lesbos, according to the ProAsyl refugee agency. This has happened almost directly in front of the Greek coast guard and the European border agency, Frontex—forces that want to prevent boats reaching the Greek island at any cost.

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The destruction of health care in Greece

By Ernst Wolf 
8 December 2012
Five austerity programmes within the space of two and a half years have reduced the health system in Greece to the level of a developing country and stripped working people of the basic right to adequate medical care.
Although winter has begun and the recent cuts have already had life-threatening and sometimes fatal consequences, the troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank are insisting on further cuts in the sphere of medicine. The result will be the ruination of the Greek health care system for decades to come and the re-emergence of illnesses and diseases regarded as long since eradicated.
In order to save €1.74 billion (US$2.25 billion), patient contributions for vitally necessary drugs are to be increased, while expenditure by public hospitals on medicines is to be reduced and overtime work by doctors restricted. A slate of vicious new cuts will come in January. The contribution for the purchase of drugs will be increased yet again, and plans for hospital reform to reduce costs will result in more staff reductions.
From 2014 onwards, a fee of one euro per prescription is to be levied, together with an increase in the daily sum to be paid for hospitalisation—from the current level of €10 to €25. This will above all discourage pensioners, the homeless and families with children from seeking emergency hospital treatment.
No fewer than 50 hospitals are threatened with closure in the next six months. Two have already ceased operating due to a lack of health insurance payments, which meant that staff had received no wages for between four and six months. The total debt of hospitals with pharmaceutical companies is in excess of €1.3 billion.
Most hospitals lack essential basic materials such as disposable gloves, plaster and catheters. Poorer women have to give birth at home because they cannot afford a hospital birth, which can cost €700-€1,500. Children can only be vaccinated with cash payment.
Due to the austerity measures, drug addicts—whose number has increased 20-fold in the past five years—receive just 15 needles per year, a tenth of the total granted in other euro zone countries. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDE) warns of a new wave of AIDS in Greece, especially in the big cities. In Athens, heroin addicts must wait an average 44 months before they can participate in a methadone programme.
Control of infectious diseases is no longer guaranteed due to the lower standards of hygiene throughout Greece. Chronic respiratory diseases, skin diseases and tuberculosis are all on the increase.
Outbreaks of malaria infections have been reported in five parts of the country, although the disease had been thought be eradicated in 1974. Once again, it is the poorest sections of society that are hardest hit. The lake and orange region of Skala is home to many immigrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan, many living crammed together in small spaces and exposed without any protection to the disease-causing mosquitoes.
The ECDE raised the alarm recently regarding the proliferation of multi-resistant germs. In Italy, the proportion of such germs in bloodstream infections has risen from 15 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2011; in Greece, it has risen from 49 percent to 68 percent. The reason: Many people fearful of losing their jobs have resorted to taking strong general antibiotics for minor illnesses, thereby unintentionally reducing their resistance levels.
“We have children who are starving, dehydrated babies”, complains Nikitas Kanakis, president of the network Doctors of the World. At the same time, the country is suffering from an unprecedented exodus of doctors. Due to the austerity measures, a consultant will earn just €1,007 monthly beginning in January 2014. This is less than a quarter of what he could expect in a western European country such as Germany.
Instead of demonstrating a modicum of humanity in such a situation, pharmaceutical companies have responded with unrelenting harshness. Due to outstanding debts, the Merck pharmaceutical and chemical company, with headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, ceased to supply the cancer drug Erbitux to Greek hospitals in early November—a fortnight before the company announced a 16 percent increase in profits to €754 million for its third quarter.
In June, the German pharmaceutical company Biotest had already ceased to supply its blood plasma products. The outstanding debts of the life-sustaining drugs represent less than 2 percent of the annual turnover of Biotest.
While the working population of Greece is helplessly exposed to these inhumane conditions, the wealthy are increasingly turning to medical care abroad. Hospitals in Northern Europe report an increase in operations for patients from the south of the euro zone. “We also find that more and more people from Greece, Spain, Portugal, England and also Switzerland are buying our drugs”, declared Lorenz Schmid, president of Zurich’s Association of Pharmacists.
Describing the current situation in his homeland, Nikitas Kanakis stated: “The truth is that our health care system has already collapsed…. Stabilisation is not in sight and I think it will get worse. Especially now when a hard winter is approaching and heating costs have become twice as expensive. The gap between rich and poor will increase, which is very dangerous. Social mobility has come to a standstill—children from poor families have little chance of a better life.”
A very different assessment comes from Euro Group president Jean-Claude Juncker. Following the passing of another European “bailout” for Greece totalling €13.5 billion, Juncker announced: “Greece is on the right track.” In fact, not a cent of the latest “loan to Greece” will go towards the Greek health care system. Instead, more than 80 percent will be consumed repaying interest to the international banks.

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Greece in the grip of the EU

22 November 2012
On Tuesday, EU finance ministers again delayed payment of the next tranche of financial aid to Greece, which is due since this summer. The decision is now supposed to be reached next Monday.
The delay is a result of serious differences between the major powers involved, including the European governments and the International Monetary Fund. In particular, the German government is refusing to agree to a relaxation of harsh loan conditions. Although Greece has now imposed five rounds of austerity measures, resulting in budget surpluses, overall debt continues to rise since gigantic sums are flowing to the creditors.
While the finance ministers and IMF are arguing about the exact form of the debt regime, they are agreed that the southern European country must be subordinated to the direct diktat of the EU so that the last cent can be squeezed out of the Greek working class. They are no longer satisfied with dictating the austerity measures to be implemented to the Greek government, but like the colonial powers of old are installing their own officials at all levels of the state and administration and even in the private banks.
Greece serves as a model for the whole continent. The redistribution of wealth from those at the bottom to those at the top cannot be reconciled with democratic rights or parliamentary forms of rule.
The latest draft of the credit agreement between the Troika—comprising the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank—and the Greek government envisages the virtual abrogation of all the legal powers of parliament. It lays down in detail the timetable for legislation. Parliament is instructed to implement 259 “reforms”, which contain further devastating social cuts, the erosion of workers’ rights and the liberalization of markets.
If Greece refuses to implement these instructions to the letter, the troika is threatening to withhold further tranches of the financial aid already agreed. Greece would then be bankrupt within weeks and could no longer pay wages, pensions and social benefits.
The supposedly autonomous municipal administrations, like the individual ministries and state corporations, have already been robbed of any room for manoeuvre. They are obliged to reach definite austerity targets, and failure to do so results in cuts being automatically imposed. Austerity commissioners have been installed in every ministry, charged with ensuring that the cuts go through. The country’s banks are also subject to commissioners, named directly by the troika in consultation with the government, responsible for the allocation of credits.
On Monday, a government spokesperson announced that Greece would deposit all the proceeds from the privatisation of profitable state enterprises into a special account that would be used exclusively for the repayment of debts and interest and is directly controlled by the troika. The German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has proposed that the financial aid could also be parked in such an account. In this way, the Greek state would lose the final remnants of its financial independence.
The dictatorship of the EU over all levels of the state administration is a direct reaction to the continuing mass protests, strikes and factory occupations with which the workers throughout Greece are resisting the brutal social attacks.
In order to impose new cuts and to further plunder Greek society, the financial elite is resorting to increasingly authoritarian means. While they subject the state administration to their diktats, the fascist gangs of Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) are being mobilised and encouraged by the police to act against political opponents and workers.
The aim of these measures is not lowering the state debt, which continues to rise, but to lowing the living conditions of the working class to Third World levels. Social rights and the welfare system are being destroyed, wages cut and hundreds of thousands sacked. Many workers have already paid with their lives, being no longer able to pay for medical treatment or medicines in a health system ruined by the cuts.
The financial elite wants to impose this programme throughout Europe. Following Spain, Portugal and Italy, now France is in the firing line. On Monday, the rating agency Moody’s
reduced the country’s credit rating, complaining of the high level of state spending, “structural deficit” and “rigid labour market”. In the weeks before, various sides had called for measures to be imposed along the lines of the Greek model in order to make the French economy “competitive”.
That the ruling class can mount such a barbaric campaign against the entire European working class is the responsibility of the trade unions and pseudo-left tendencies that cover for them.
The unions are collaborating closely with the governments and the EU to impose the cuts against the working class and to isolate and diffuse their struggles. They categorically refuse to organise any solidarity action and defend the Greek working class.
Organisations such as the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France, the Left Party in Germany or the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in Greece support the institutions of the EU and their austerity plans. They are all doing everything possible to politically paralyse the working class and prevent a struggle against the financial elite and its lackeys in the EU.
The chair of SYRIZA Alex Tsipras has announced that he will meet with the ambassadors of all 27 EU states next Tuesday to strengthen relations and “build confidence,” he says. For weeks, he has been preparing to take over the government from the crisis-ridden coalition under conservative Prime Minister Andonis Samaras and to impose the EU diktats himself.
To defend their rights against the dictatorship of the EU, workers must break with these organisations and take up a common struggle against the financial elite, their states and EU institutions. Only the independent mobilisation of the working class can prevent the ruling class from plunging the continent into dictatorship and poverty once more.
This requires the building of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) as the revolutionary party of the working class, uniting workers across all national borders in the fight for a socialist society, nationalising the banks and corporations and placing them under democratic control.
The first step is the defence of the Greek working class by their European brothers and sisters. The attacks of the troika must be opposed by a common offensive; otherwise workers face the same fate across the continent.
Christoph Dreier

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Exhaustion of Greek political system and society in flames

15.11.2012

 
By Dimitra Karantzeni
Exhaustion of Greek political system and society in flames. 48528.jpeg
As the days go by, current chaotic situation in Greece is rendered more and more perplexed and difficulty approachable, in a level that one could state that perhaps this country likes to put itself into a permanent submissive position of misery, as well as that hypocrisy is a component of the last generations, somehow infused into people’s DNA.
First of all, when it comes to citizens, they often declare that they are conscientious, hardworking, inherently democratic people who honor their ancient legacies from Plato, Aristotle and the other philosophers of Antiquity. What it’s hesitated to be said, is that Greeks are primarily responsible for the perpetual downfall accompanied by a boundless international self-humiliation, for a corruption so deep that shouldn’t be isolated in the political field but better treated as a whole, since it touches every aspect of everyday personal and social life.
Greek citizens are the ones applauding, cheering and waving the flags of victory for the representatives they voted, just after the announcement of the elections’ result, literally opening their hands greedily, so as to grab any kind of position available, that would calm for a while their national anger and frustration. At the same time, they are the same people that the day after, burst into blasphemies and curses against their country’s useless politicians, hiding in the drawer – for four years or something less – their flags of shame …
Even now that bankruptcy is a reality that we all experience, but no one dared to officially announce, Greek leaders remain free, with people’s endless tolerance, to arrange lives as they wish, by playing Russian roulette in the salons of Troika and then turn back, sometimes with bombastic nationalistic elations for the salvation of the country and other times with the tail between their legs.
Nevertheless, this is just the one side of the coin, as country’s political system seems equally unable to escape its voracious self. To start with, ruling party New Democracy (ND) appears as a misreplication of a center-right political force, which tries really hard to fight its conservative nature. Before winning the elections, ND intensively opposed memorandum and its harsh terms, accusing ruling party PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) for the betrayal of national sovereignty. Today, New Democracy ironically tries to coexist and maintain unity in a fragile governmental coalition with its greatest oppositional party, PASOK, and the alternative europeanist left-wing party of Dimokratiki Aristera (DIM.AR.), in order to guarantee the extension of the same measures taken.
In his recent interview for the leading Greek business magazine Ependytis, professor Anis Bajrektarevic rightfully remarked: “…Europe departed from the world of work…the EU has helplessly lost its political ‘left’…” (Επενδυτης, 11 November 2012, page 13)
Indeed, leftist forces in Greece on the other hand, levitate between fragmentation and dissolution, achieving the absolute disorientation of the electorate. A noteworthy fact is the complete weakening of erstwhile socialist PASOK which has experienced a vast loss of popular support, approaching historically low, single-digit percentages, while its members abandon one by one, the sinking boat. Moving on to Greek Communist Party, it remains in hibernation, losing several rounds in the marathon of political parties for survival, essentially putting itself offseason with all its utopian visions – otherwise perfect to describe the structures of another Platonic ideal state -, as it persists to outdated proposals lacking realism and organized strategy. A situation that can’t help but magnify the fears for its future transformation into more or less, a ”historical” party, that honorary occupies parliamentary seats, along with the ghosts of the past.
Regarding SY.RI.ZA (Radical Left Coalition Party) and DIM.AR. (Democratic Leftist Party), they appear undecided between the charming contact with the governmental power on the one hand and the will for a few revolutionary elavations against corruption, bipartisanship and despotism of external interventional powers (Troika) on the other. Unfortunately, none of them seems to offer anything special, as they limit their actions to a counterproductive presence, occasionally throwing a few drops of socialism in the cocktail of center-right powers, who have undertaken the mission of economic independence by beating the ‘three forces of darkness “…
Within this maelstrom, people have completely lost the power to fight and the faith to envision a radical change, and what is left is drama, passive resistance and a piteous seeking, conscious or not, of a voluntary patronage, a refuge in the poisonous hugs of the far right forces (Golden Dawn) which flourish undisturbed, with the coverage of parliamentary legitimization and abolish the intended constitutional, moral, etc. laws, suggesting violence and revenge, or in other words, a return to the philosophy of the jungle.
As a matter of fact, the point is that beyond any financial support available and even if the debt ever becomes somehow manageable, the major problem remains in the core of Greek society, where all social layers oppose one another into a dangerous belligerent zone and every existing political doctrine seems so exhausted to place the country into a whole new perspective.
A state that appears for a long-standing period unable to fill its institutional and governmental gaps is inevitably exposed to any attempt of destabilization and manipulation by forces – internal or not – which carefully await to benefit from its degradation. If we’d dare to scratch the surface, we’d clearly see that a country’s solidarity is a fragile concept that isn’t necessarily threatened by supranational institutions which aim to restrict its eras of national sovereignty. Social intolerance, indifference, extremism, and trivialization of democratic values are some places where the danger could be hidden. As they say, ”Man’s worst enemy, is the man Himself”…
Dimitra Karantzeni

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SYRIZA supports Greek government as it negotiates new austerity measures

By Christoph Dreier 
31 October 2012
Four months after entering office, Greece’s conservative-social democratic government is in deep crisis. Faced with daily strikes and protests against brutal austerity measures as well as falling poll ratings, tensions between the government coalition partners are growing.
On Tuesday, conservative premier Antonis Samaras (ND) announced that his government had finished talks with Greece’s international lenders. It will submit the fifth austerity package to the parliament next week. The package contains €13.5 billion of cuts as well as reforms of the labor laws. A failure of the law, Samaras claimed, would plunge Greece into “chaos.”
A struggle has broken out within the government over how best to implement the cuts. The conservative Nea Dimokratia (ND) is insisting that the requirements of the troika—the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund—are implemented to the letter. For their part, the Democratic Left (DIMAR) and the social-democratic PASOK have proposed some cosmetic changes and the greater involvement of the unions, threatening otherwise that they will not vote for parts of the package.
In this situation, the largest opposition party, the Coalition of the Alternative Left (SYRIZA), has lined up behind the government, all but openly offering its support to ensure that the government can hold together and pass the cuts. Last Friday, in an interview with the Reuters news agency, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said his party was not interested in bringing down the government. “Our top priority is to overturn this policy”, he said, “It is not a time for tricks, it is not a time to provoke the fall of the government.”
Tsipras was referring to the possibility that his party could stop the austerity package by provoking the dissolution of parliament. Greek election law states that fresh elections must be held if 60 of the 300 parliamentary deputies resign. Since 1974, only the social democratic PASOK and the conservative New Democracy (ND) have had enough seats to bring about such a situation. Now SYRIZA, with its 71 deputies, is also in a position to do this. All the other opposition parties combined do not have enough seats.
According to the latest opinion polls, the government parties would suffer heavy losses in new elections as a result of the new austerity measures, while SYRIZA would gain a majority. However, Tspiras is now excluding such a possibility.
Instead, in the interview he encourages the illusion that members of the government coalition of ND, PASOK and the Democratic Left (DIMAR) will vote against the new austerity package and could therefore stop it.
Tsipras adopts a cowardly and submissive attitude towards the government because fundamentally he agrees with its program. The SYRIZA leader stressed again to Reuters that, like Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (ND), he wanted to ensure that Greece remained in the EU. He told Reuters that he wanted to renegotiate the credit agreements—of which the latest austerity measures are a part—with the representatives of the EU, so that Greece would be in a better position to repay its debts.
Tsipras repeated his demand that Greek banks be nationalised. Given the bankruptcy of these financial institutions, this means nothing more that socialising their losses. Of the current tranche of financial aid, some 85 percent will go directly to the banks. To that end, the population is to be forced to submit to one package of social cuts after another.
In light of these statements, SYRIZA’s cynical verbal opposition to austerity policies is no more than an attempt to divert workers’ anger and resistance into harmless channels, namely in support of the EU and the government. Tsipras’ main task is to encourage illusions that the social attacks can be halted or reduced within the EU, and even under the present government.
This strategy grows in importance as social contradictions intensify. The ruling elite in Athens faces growing difficulties imposing the cuts being dictated by the EU. The austerity measures introduced so far have already led to a deep recession, unemployment of over 24 percent, and a massive drop in wages. Since the beginning of the crisis, 70,000 businesses have had to close.
The government is now planning further cuts in wages and pensions of up to 30 percent, cutting unemployment benefits in certain areas and imposing mass sackings. At the universities, 13,000 to 15,000 non-tenured lecturers’ posts are to be cut, and the already desperately underfunded hospitals must cut a further 10 percent of their workforce.
Anger at this policy of social devastation is enormous. In the past month, there have been three mass demonstrations with up to 100,000 participants. Every day, new strikes break out and the government can no longer count on workers in the ministries and departments to carry out its decisions.
Under these conditions, an open struggle has already broken out within the government over how best to implement the cuts. While the ND is insisting that the requirements of the Troika (the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) are implemented to the letter, DIMAR is proposing some cosmetic changes and the greater involvement of the unions, threatening otherwise not to vote for parts of the package.
The central function of SYRIZA in this situation is to politically paralyse workers and prevent massive protests being directed against the government and the EU institutions, and becoming the starting point for a European-wide offensive by the working class. For this reason, Tsipras criticises the cuts, but seeks to prevent every serious initiative to mobilise workers politically.
If SYRIZA is able to maintain its paralysing influence on workers, and thereby block the only progressive way out of the crisis, the danger from the extreme right grows.
The fascist party Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) has already been able to attract desperate and backward elements of the petty bourgeoisie and mobilise them against immigrants, workers and political opponents. The fact that they are supported in their racist campaigns by considerable sections of the police underscores the reactionary character of the current government, to which SYRIZA is effectively extending its support.

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German chancellor Angela Merkel visits Greece

By Christoph Dreier 
10 October 2012
The protests that took place during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s state visit to Greece on Monday reflect the explosive class tensions in Europe.
A force of 7,000 police drawn from across Greece assembled in Syntagma Square in central Athens to prevent protests and demonstrations by angry Greek workers. Despite this state intimidation, tens of thousands gathered outside the parliament building.
Before the demonstration, police indiscriminately arrested people identified as suspicious. Protesters were forced to pass through a series of identity checks.
Police snipers were positioned on rooftops around the square, as riot police repeatedly sought to provoke protesters and attacked them with stun grenades, tear gas and batons. At least 193 people were reportedly arrested. Police had originally attempted to prevent any mass gatherings in the city center, but ultimately permitted a demonstration in Syntagma Square.
Protesters carried placards saying “Get out, you are not welcome, imperialists,” “Stop the Fourth Reich,” or “Out of the EU and IMF.” Some wore German army uniforms or burned swastikas. Many placards attacked the austerity measures the Greek government has pushed through in negotiations with the European Union.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (New Democracy) and German chancellor Angela Merkel made a show of harmony at their joint press conference. “I want to thank you for the warm welcome,” Merkel declared at the beginning of her remarks. “We are partners and friends.”
She praised the Greek premier for the progress made in budget cuts, but also made clear that she expected Greece to fully implement cuts dictated by the EU. She then cynically promised to open the way for the payment of EU funds amounting to 30 billion euros which had been agreed earlier this year.
On Monday, euro zone finance ministers had issued an ultimatum to the Greek government: if the Greek cabinet failed to implement the cuts decided upon last March, payment of the next tranche of aid would not be paid and Greece would be driven into bankruptcy.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Christine Lagarde declared: “Action means action, and not talk.”
Concretely, the representatives of the troika (the European Central Bank (ECB), the IMF and the European Commission) demanded that Athens make further cuts in pensions, wages and social spending, totaling 14.5 billion euros. In fact the so-called emergency loans provided by the troika go to pay off Greek and international banks and speculators.
The German government has played a central role in enforcing and implementing EU dictates. Klaus Masuch of the ECB and Matthias Mors for the EU Commission are two of the three troika representatives in Athens with direct links to the German chancellery. Berlin has repeatedly intervening directly to correct troika decisions.
At the press conference, Merkel repeated the German troika representatives’ demands: that Greece not only adhere to the cuts, but also make so-called structural reforms. This refers to new labor laws to cut wages, introduce longer working hours and shorter breaks, and decimate workers’ rights.
These measures aim to enable corporations to enrich themselves at the expense of the Greek working class. Miserable working conditions in Greece will also serve as a lever to dismantle social standards across Europe. On Monday afternoon, Merkel met with representatives of Greek and German business circles to discuss concrete plans to this end.
The measures—implemented in the last two years in Greece by Athens and the EU—have already led to an unprecedented social catastrophe. Wages and pensions have been cut by up to 60 percent, and unemployment has soared to over 24 percent, with unemployment among young people topping 55 percent. In the past four years Greece’s economic output has fallen about 20 percent; the drop in GDP for this year was recently revised upward to 7.1 percent.
Following Merkel, the Greek premier also called for pressing the offensive against the working class. “We are increasingly achieving our goals, and we will continue to do so,” the prime minister declared, adding: “We are not asking for more money, and no special concessions.”
All the social attacks carried out in recent years were carried out by successive governments that worked closely with EU institutions. At the behest of the Greek financial elite, austerity measures have been imposed which have hit the poor and workers, while sparing the super-rich.
In recent weeks it emerged that since the end of 2010, Athens has been in possession of a USB stick containing data from 1991, listing Greek citizens with accounts at the Geneva branch of the HSBC bank. This list could have been used to track down tax dodgers. According to some estimates, Greek millionaires deposited up to 600 billion euros in Swiss bank accounts—a sum far exceeding Greece’s national debt.
The scandal surrounding the stick has revealed the close ties between the Greek political elite with the super-rich. Though the Finance Ministry had the data for two years, it was never handed on to the tax authorities. Newspapers have now revealed that at least 60 politicians from the ruling parties are listed on the USB stick.
According to the New York Times, there is another list with the names of 54,000 Greeks who have shifted 30 billion euros abroad since the crisis began.
This policy of enriching the financial elite at the expense of workers is the basis for the friendly meeting between Merkel and Samaras. This policy is no longer compatible with democratic rights. Instead, the European ruling class is introducing police state measures and authoritarian forms of rule.
When 350 shipyard workers demonstrated outside the Defence Ministry last Thursday, demanding new orders and the payment of their wages, police attacked them with tear gas and batons. On Sunday the police broke up protests by electricity board workers protesting against tax cuts for the rich. Reportedly, 18 people were arrested and detained.
On Tuesday the Guardian reported on 15 demonstrators who protested against the fascist Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) party and were then arrested and tortured by police. Numerous reports have documented the close collaboration between sections of the Greek police and fascist gangs.
The ruling elite’s most important instrument to break the resistance of workers, however, are the trade unions and pseudo-left groups, which seek to divert the anger of workers into harmless channels and promote illusions in the EU. These organizations are in constant contact with leading government and EU officials. Last Wednesday, the leadership of the country’s largest trade union confederation, the GSEE, met for talks with the chairman of the Democratic Left (DIMAR), Fotis Kouvelis, a member of the government coalition.
Meanwhile on Monday the chairman of the Coalition of the Alternative Left (SYRIZA), Aleksis Tsipras, took part in the protests in Syntagma Square and proposed an end to the cuts. At the same time, he defended the EU—the main instrument of the finance elite to enforce these cuts. In an article in theGuardian on Monday, he called for strengthening European institutions and for creating a political union for the EU.
Tsipras was supported by German Left Party chairman Bernd Riexinger, who also took part in the demonstration in Athens. The Left Party has not only permitted the adoption of the bank bailouts in Germany, but has also enforced social cuts in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia. It is therefore not surprising that Riexinger’s main demand was a plea that Merkel meet with Tsipras for talks.

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Greek government plans further cuts

By Christoph Dreier 
1 August 2012
On Monday the Greek government announced it would only publish the details of its new austerity package, comprising cuts of around twelve billion euros (US$14.8 billion) later in August. Meanwhile Athens is shifting personnel inside the security services and re-equipping the police force to prepare for the violent suppression of expected protests.
Initially the main budget cuts demanded by the troika—the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—were to be announced yesterday. After a meeting of the leaders of the ruling parties, the announcement was postponed. Government sources reported that some points had not yet been settled.
The conservative New Democracy (ND), the social democratic PASOK, and the small Democratic Left (DIMAR) agreed on the extent of the cuts. However, the latter party preferred drawing them out over four years instead of two, as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had already considered proposing. According to the daily Kathimerini, PASOK suggested adopting cuts of 6 billion euros for 2013 for a start and postponing the adoption of the 5.5 billion euro cuts scheduled for 2014.
However, details made public so far suggest that the disputes inside the government are about how to enforce the cuts and not about their contents, which are almost exclusively directed against workers and the poor.
As early as last week, there had been reports that the three parties had agreed on cutting the Labor Ministry’s budget by five billion euros and slashing spending on hospitals by 300 million euros. The Greek government has been unable to provide health care for the population for some time. In northern Greece hundreds of hospital doctors are mounting work-to-rule protests against wage cuts.
It is also likely that there will be a massive cut in wages at public enterprises, such as energy companies. Current calculations suggest that wage cuts of between 30 and 50 percent are planned. This is also a step toward privatizing the companies, which wage cuts make more attractive to investors.
On top of this, state pensions are to be slashed once more. The agricultural insurance fund’s benefits are to be lowered from 360 euros to 330 euros monthly, and all other benefits above 1,000 euros are to be cut 15 percent. All pension payments will be capped at 2.200 euros. The increase in retirement age from 65 to 67 years will add to existing cuts.
With youth unemployment running at over 50 percent and unemployment insurance very limited, small pensions are often a family’s only income. These cuts will devastate millions of families.
The wealthy layers of society are being spared, however. According to official figures, Greek millionaires have transferred 16 billion euros abroad within the past two years, without any serious measures being taken against them.
Greece’s richest entrepreneurs, the shipping company owners, do not pay any taxes on their earnings, which are exempted from taxation on the grounds that they are international under a rule incorporated into Greece’s constitution in 1967, the first year the junta of the colonels was in power.
The government also presented a bill empowering the Greek cabinet to close all universities without parliamentary approval.
“It is impossible for a country [like Greece] with a population of 11 million people to afford about 40 universities when other countries, such as Israel, have just seven or eight,” education minister Costas Arvanitopoulos told Mega TV. He said Athens would quickly make use of the law.
All these measures, as well as the delay in announcing the cuts, were agreed with the troika. On Tuesday morning Samaras, PASOK-appointed Finance Minister Giannis Stournaras, and other cabinet members met to discuss further proceedings. Troika representatives announced that they would stay in Athens until the cabinet approved the austerity package.
In addition to new cuts, the troika also monitors the implementation of previously adopted cuts that have not yet been fully implemented during the election campaigns due to massive popular resistance. Whether the next tranche of European aid is disbursed to Greece will depend on their report. Otherwise, the country faces bankruptcy within weeks.
On 20 August, an ECB loan will fall due which Greece cannot pay for from its own resources. Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said on Tuesday that the country’s cash reserves were almost down to zero.
“We are certainly on the brink. We haven’t received the tranche that we were entitled to,” he said on state television channel NET.
Citing several insiders of the Greek government and the troika mission, news agency Dow Jones Newswires reported that Greece has to raise another 30 billion euros in addition to the existing cuts in order to meet its obligations to the troika. This results from the fact that the recession has been much worse than predicted.
Under these conditions European countries are increasing the pressure on Greece. Last week European Commission President José Manuel Barroso declared that Greece could only stay a member of the European Monetary Union if it delivered “results, results, results.”
“Words are not enough, deeds are more important,” Barroso said during his visit to Athens.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told the Welt am Sonntagnewspaper that the terms of the loan could not be changed. These were already “very lenient. I cannot see that there is still room for further concessions.” He said it would not help “to speculate about money or time.”
In addition, the voices arguing for Greek bankruptcy and its exclusion from the euro zone within the German government are increasing in number. After Minister of Economy and FDP leader Philipp Rösler called for refusing to extend any further assistance to Greece last week, vice party leader Michael Fuchs (CDU) now joined in.
“Greece cannot be saved, that’s simple math,” he told business magazineWirtschaftswoche. He and Rösler also received support from CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer.
Although this position is gaining influence in leading circles in Germany, such statements are also intended to increase the pressure on the Greek government. The troika wants the austerity package to be enforced as quickly as possible, in the face of enormous public opposition.
For this reason Nikos Dendias, Minister for Civil Protection, has announced an increase in police forces in urban neighborhoods by 1,500 officers. He also wants to buy 100 new police cars and 60 motorcycles. He has appointed Athanasios Andreoulakos as General Secretary of the Ministry.
During the 1967-1974 Greek military junta, Andreoulakos was a member of a military tribunal that sent at least six resistance fighters to jail.
The resignation of Army Chief of Staff Constantinos Ziazias and his replacement by pro-ND General Mikhail Kostarakos must be seen in this context. The Conservative government is obviously working to develop its close ties with the army.
The most important instrument the Greek government can rely on against the resistance of workers, however, is the biggest oppositional party, the Coalition of the Alternative Left (SYRIZA).
Having announced that they would support protests against austerity measures, they are doing whatever they can to subordinate these protests to EU institutions and make them come to nothing. The party’s representatives keep repeating their mantras that the loan agreements with the EU could be made more humane. During the election campaign they also supported spending money to re-equip the police.

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Greek government, European officials plan billions in new social cuts

By Alex Lantier and John Vassilopoulos 
27 July 2012
Greek officials met with European Commission (EC) President José Manuel Barroso and international financial officials yesterday to discuss a new round of budget cuts worth 11.5 billion euros (US$14.4 billion) in 2013-2014.
These cuts, amounting to over 5 percent of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), will devastate a Greek economy already bled white by repeated waves of social cuts over the last three years. The Labor Ministry budget is to contract by €5 billion, largely at the expense of pensions.
Greece’s devastated public hospital system faces another €300 million in cuts. Health minister Andreas Lykourentzos was forced to deny reports that Athens plans to impose a mandatory €1,500 upper limit on health spending per patient in Greece.
Relative to the size of Greece’s economy, these cuts are massive; corresponding amounts would be $802 billion in the United States, £82 billion in Britain, or €136 billion in Germany. They come on top of the deepest economic contraction in Greece since the Nazi occupation of that country; most workers have lost 30 to 50 percent of their wages and benefits. Reports earlier this year suggested that roughly 30 percent of Greece’s population is forced to rely on street clinics for health care.
Athens is making the latest budget cuts in a desperate attempt to meet European Union (EU) debt-cutting targets, which it has missed as austerity policies shrank Greece’s economy faster than it could pay down its debts. The economy is projected to contract by 7 percent in 2012, more than earlier forecasts of 4.5 percent. Greece needs further assistance to meet a €3.26 billion debt payment due on August 20.
The leaders of the Greek government coalition met last night to finalize the budget cuts. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of New Democracy (ND), PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, and Democratic Left (DIMAR) leader Fotis Kouvelis approved roughly €10 billion of the cuts. Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the meeting had been “constructive,” adding: “Everyone wants to contribute to achieving fiscal targets.”
Samaras, Venizelos, and Kouvelis reportedly disagreed on where to make the last €1.5 billion in cuts. Samaras was reportedly opposed to cuts in “special salaries” in the public sector, mostly paid to the security services, while Venizelos hoped to avoid further cuts to pensions. Coalition talks to finalize the cuts are slated to resume Monday.
Samaras will also meet officials of the “troika”—the EC, International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank (ECB)—for further talks today.
After a two-hour meeting with Samaras, Barroso reiterated EU demands for cuts: “To maintain the trust of European and international partners, delays must end. Words are not enough, actions are much more important than words.”
These events underscore the bankruptcy of the Greek political establishment—both the current government, which imposes whatever cuts the EU demands, and the pseudo-left SYRIZA party that emerged as ND’s main opponent in the June elections. While weakly criticizing EU austerity, it pledged to repay the banks and made public campaign gestures to the army and police, effectively handing the election to ND. It has pledged to be a “responsible” opposition, not to call strikes, and to support the EU (See, “SYRIZA backs Greek government’s capitulation to the EU”).
Social and political tensions are escalating in Greece, reflected in the recent resignation of General Constantinos Ziazias as army chief of staff. He announced Wednesday morning that he was resigning his position, explaining: “I was called at 2 a.m. to receive a list with names of officers for promotion and discharge. I cannot accept such interference with my duties.”
This was apparently a continuation of infighting inside the army that flared up last autumn, when the PASOK government of Prime Minister Giorgios Papandreou sacked the entire top brass amid rumors of a possible coup, after the announcement of further unpopular austerity measures. This provoked opposition among former army personnel in ND’s “Defense Group,” including current Deputy Defense Minister Panayiotis Karabelas. These forces are now pressing for a redistribution of influence inside the army, amid rising discontent in the ranks over economic policy.
Greek news site onalert.gr commented, “Without a doubt, the personnel of the army is in a desperate state … due to the cuts they have suffered and those that are coming, and on top of that the anxiety of being posted elsewhere. In no other civilized European country are the promotions and discharge of army officers connected in such a blatant and crude way with political parties.”
EU officials are pressing ahead to preserve the euro at the expense of massive attacks on the working class and the Greek economy. At the same time, a bitter debate is raging inside the European bourgeoisie over whether to rescue Greece and other debt-stricken countries. Some favor cutting off credit to Greece, forcing it to leave the euro zone and to reintroduce and print its own national currency to stave off a collapse of its banking system.
Markus Soeder, the finance minister in the German state of Bavaria, was the latest to call for expelling Greece from the euro zone. Yesterday he called Greece a “money sink,” adding: “In terms of reform steps there is nothing. So I don’t think the solution lies in giving more money to Greece, but that Greece will leave the euro zone.”
Yesterday, however, troika officials also told the Greek daily Kathimerini that if Greece made the currently agreed-upon cuts, they would support keeping Greece in the euro zone. For his part, Barroso said that all European heads of state were committed to keeping Greece inside the euro zone, “as long as its commitments are honored.”
Yesterday ECB head Mario Draghi also pledged the ECB would do “whatever it takes to preserve the euro,” adding: “Believe me, it will be enough.” Financial commentators widely interpreted this as a pledge to print whatever money was necessary to finance indebted euro zone states—including not only Greece, but larger economies including Italy and Spain.
As it seeks to free up resources to pay off the banks, the European bourgeoisie is thus choosing between two equally bankrupt policies: ruining workers in the indebted countries with devastating austerity, or printing large amounts of money—a policy Berlin opposes, citing a ban on ECB “debt monetization,” or financing government spending by inflationary money-printing.
Referring to the ECB’s €1 trillion loan to European banks earlier this year, theWall Street Journal wrote, “For a while the banks did what the ECB wanted them to: they bought their domestic sovereign debt, driving down yields. But €1 trillion proved not to be enough. Yields fell only temporarily. Now it seems Mr. Draghi is willing to ignore restrictions on debt monetization … In theory the ECB is only limited by how fast it can run its printing presses. And in the days of electronic finance, that’s essentially the speed of light.”
Remarkably, the massive amounts of credit made available to the banks have not produced economic growth. While European stock markets ended up on expectations of fresh funds from the ECB, the latest economic figures for in Europe and internationally released show continued contraction in Europe. The British economy shrank a larger-than-expected 0.7 percent in the second quarter of the year, and Germany faces falling business confidence amid expectations that it will need to help fund a bailout of the ailing Spanish banking sector.

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Brutal police attack on steel strike in Greece

By Katerina Selin 
26 July 2012
Last Friday police began a violent intervention to break up the picket line maintained by striking workers at the Halyvourgia Ellados steel plant. The offensive by police is directly related to the government’s plans to impose further austerity measures in the face of massive popular resistance. It stands as a warning to workers throughout Europe.
For the past nine months, workers at the steel mill in Aspropyrgos nears Athens have fought against layoffs and pay cuts. Though the strike has so far remained largely isolated, workers have courageously defended their right to a job and a decent income under conditions of huge pressure and threats from management, trade unions and the government.
In preparation for new austerity measures, Prime Minister Andonis Samaras has now decided to close down the labour dispute which has become a symbol of resistance for the whole country.
Early Friday morning, a number of police vans pulled up in front of the steel plant. Special police units broke up the picket line and opened up the factory gates as the striking workers sought to defend themselves. Following the clashes nine workers were arrested.
Police cars were stationed in front of the factory throughout the weekend. On Monday, additional police units turned up and used tear gas to disperse the remaining 200 strikers and supporters. At a meeting on Saturday, the strikers had voted by a large majority to continue their strike. On Monday evening about 2,000 demonstrators gathered in Omonia Square in central Athens to express their solidarity with the steelworkers.
The breaking up of the picket line was carried out without any proper legal basis. Just a month ago, a court had sought to declare the strike illegal by pointing to irregularities in the strike vote. Shortly afterwards workers voted in a secret ballot with a clear majority in favour of the strike, thereby rendering this argument invalid.
The owners then threatened to close the factory. According to media reports, Samaras personally asked Labour Minister Ioannis Vroutsis, and the Minister of Public Order and Protection of Citizens, Nikos Dendias, to act quickly. “The right to work is sacred,” said Samaras, “and the government supports it with all means.”
Under conditions where youth unemployment is over 50 percent due to the government’s policies, this argument is utterly cynical. Workers are striking precisely to defend the right to secure and reasonable jobs. The government is now using this argument as a phony excuse to break the strike without any legal justification.
The group of workers who have declared they wish to resume work and are being prevented from doing so by the strikers consist of a handful of scabs employed primarily in management. They are now being deliberately used to break the strike.
The attacks on wages and jobs at the Halyvourgia Ellados steel mill are part of the overall onslaught against workers in Greece which have led to massive losses in wages and mass unemployment.
The strike began nine months ago, when Nikolaos Manessis, the owner of the steel mill and another in the Greek city of Volos in the Thessaly region, tried to cut the working hours and wages of the company’s 800 steel workers.
When workers at the Aspropyrgos plant refused to comply, the owner responded with a first round of layoffs. The workers then went on indefinite strike, during which time the company announced the sacking of 120 of the 360-strong work force. The strikers are demanding the reinstatement of all workers and a return to their previous working conditions.
While the workers are expected to work for a monthly salary of only 500 euros, the Manessis family is one of the richest in Greece. The family is not only the leader in the Greek steel industry but also active in other areas.
Nikolaos is also an executive member of the Alpha Bank. His 35-year-old son, George, works as director of the London investment and wealth management company “Castalia”, in addition to his managerial work in the steel mills.
Under these conditions the strike has become iconic, winning broad support and solidarity from other workers. The fact that the government can now attack the strike in this way is primarily the responsibility of the Stalinist Greek Communist Party (KKE) and its trade union federation, PAME, which played a leading role in the strike.
Following the refusal of the pro-government steelworkers union POEM to support the strike, PAME was prepared to offer assistance in the form of food and donations. However, at the same time it did everything possible to isolate the strike and prevent it from becoming the starting point of a broader movement against the government and its backers in the unions.
During the entire nine months of the strike, PAME declined to make any serious attempt to extend the action or organize solidarity. Apart from a few perfunctory acts of solidarity PAME refused to organise coordinated strikes in other factories and industrial areas.
PAME is affiliated to the country’s main trade union federation, GSEE, which in turn works closely with the governing parties.
This is why the government now feels strong enough to attack the steel workers and commence a broader wave of repression against the entire working population. Samaras is acutely aware that he can only enforce the fresh round of cuts demanded by the EU by employing the full force of the state against workers.

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EU representatives discuss withdrawal of Greece from the euro zone

By Christoph Dreier 
25 July 2012
A withdrawal of Greece from the euro zone is increasingly likely. In recent days, representatives of the “troika”—the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission, and the European Central Bank (ECB)—have signalled that they are willing to force Greece into bankruptcy if it does not impose further austerity measures.
Yesterday representatives of the Troika returned to Greece to review the progress of the austerity measures. According to media reports, continuing popular resistance, and especially the suspension of the austerity measures during the election campaign, led to a delay in the implementation of social cuts demanded by Greece’s creditors.
The new Greek government had asked that the austerity measures ordered be extended by two years and be implemented incrementally, because it saw no possibility of implementing the cuts as planned against the population. According to news magazine Spiegel, such a delay would require an additional €10 billion to €50 billion, so as to finance Greece’s debt burden.
The austerity measures already implemented have led to mass poverty, unemployment and wage cuts, resulting in a deep recession. This year the Greek economy is projected to contract by 7 percent, more than the original forecast of 4.5 percent.
Given the speed of Greece’s economic collapse, the size of its debt relative to its economy is actually increasing even as Greece pays down its debt. The Greek Ministry of Finance expects that meeting debt targets will therefore require an additional €14.5 billion in cuts, rather than the €11.5 billion originally planned.
Nevertheless, Troika representatives refused to even consider scaling back the austerity measures. Instead, they are now openly discussing forcing Greece into bankruptcy in September, when the next instalment of the existing aid package of €12.5 billion falls due. The government would then be forced to leave the euro zone and reintroduce the drachma as Greece’s currency to print money to fund its debts.
Last Friday, the ECB announced that they would no longer accept Greek bonds as collateral for loans until the Troika issues its report. Since this is only expected in September, Greek banks face severe financial problems. They will need to turn to the Greek central bank for funding.
On Monday, a European Commission spokesman made ​​clear that not a penny in credits would be paid until the full report was received from the Troika. For this reason, Athens sought emergency loans from EU countries for August to avert bankruptcy. According to Der Spiegel, high-ranking IMF officials made ​​it clear that they did not want to make further payments to Greece.
The German government—the second largest creditor in the Troika after the IMF—is increasingly openly discussing the expulsion of Greece from the euro zone.
The German Minister of Economics and Free Democratic Party (FDP) chair Philip Rösler told broadcaster ARD that he was “more than skeptical” that Greece could implement the requirements of the creditors.
“If Greece does not fulfil its obligations, there can be no further payments”, the FDP leader said. “The country would then be insolvent. This will probably start a discussion in the country itself. The Greeks will then come to the conviction themselves; it is perhaps smarter to withdraw from the euro zone.”
This is apparently the scenario that the minister wishes to see. “I think that for many experts, for the FDP and also for me, an exit of Greece from the euro zone has long lost its horror”, he added.
Christian Social Union (CSU, part of the ruling coalition) General Secretary Alexander Dobrindt has even drawn up plans for implementing Greece’s withdrawal from the euro. He suggested to Welt am Sonntag that the drachma be gradually reintroduced. “The Greek government should now start paying half of its civil servants, pensions and other expenses in drachmas”, he said.
According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, government circles now consider it “inconceivable that Angela Merkel would once again appear before parliament seeking approval for a third rescue package for Greece”. Opposition already developed inside Germany’s ruling coalition during the votes on the two previous bailout packages for Greece.
Speaking to Bild Zeitung, finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble expressed his intransigence towards Athens: “If there have been delays, Greece must make them up. The euro group will consult when the Troika’s report is presented.”
These positions are not uncontroversial in the German bourgeoisie. The fact that they are now formulated so openly initially had the effect of putting the Greek government under pressure. The coalition of the conservative New Democracy (ND), the social-democratic PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR)—who together did not even win 50 percent of the vote in the general election—is tasked with enforcing the new austerity measures despite broad popular opposition.
Discussions about the exclusion of Greece from the euro zone are not just empty threats. Through the Greek government’s austerity measures and the bailouts of the Troika, three-quarters of the costs of a state bankruptcy are now in the public purse. The private banks long ago exchanged their Greek government bonds for fresh currency. The money for this was squeezed out of Greek workers, on the one hand, and provided by the other euro countries on the other.
This unloading of Greek debt on public authorities means that the direct impact of a Greek national bankruptcy would fall primarily on the public finances of the euro zone and states contributing to the IMF. For this reason, a willingness to expel Greece from the euro is growing in the financial elite.
In this way, an example would be made for other countries that are reliant on the Troika. Especially in Spain, working class opposition has resulted recently in massive protests. The exclusion of Greece would serve to threaten and intimidate them.
A return to the drachma under these conditions would have catastrophic consequences for the population. Hyperinflation would devalue wages, pensions and social benefits overnight and intensify hunger, poverty and mass misery. Greece would become a cheap wage workshop for the multinationals.
The alternative for the working class cannot be to defend remaining in the euro zone. The next package of austerity measures would worsen the situation facing workers no less and drive the country into bankruptcy all the more certainly. What is necessary is a European-wide mobilization of workers against the financial elite and their European institutions on the basis of a socialist programme.

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Troika arrives in Athens to organise looting of Greece

By Robert Stevens 
5 July 2012
The New Democracy-led Greek coalition government is meeting officials from the troika—the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—today.
Christine Lagarde, IMF’s managing director, marked the occasion with a stern warning to Athens that the austerity programme must continue. In an interview with CNBC Tuesday, Lagarde said, “I am not in a negotiation or renegotiation mood at all.”
Referring to reports that the Greek government is to present figures recording the social misery caused by years of austerity to press the case for a renegotiation of the country’s debt, she added, “I’m very interested in seeing what has been done in the last few months in terms of complying with the programme.”
Despite the majority voting in the June 17 general election against parties supporting the Memorandum with the troika on harsh debt repayment terms, the coalition of ND, the social democratic PASOK and the Democratic Left is intent on meeting the demands for further savage cuts. Its talk of renegotiating a two-year extension for paying back Greece’s 350 billion euro debt is hot air. No such compromise is on offer, as Lagarde makes clear.
A popular repudiation of the austerity agenda of ND and a collapse in the vote for PASOK, with SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) finishing second by campaigning on an anti-cuts ticket, forced the coalition to pledge not to impose certain planned cuts, such as a 22 percent reduction in the minimum wage.
Within days they were forced to retract such promises due to the hostile response of the troika. Prime Minister and ND leader Antonis Samaras responded with a letter to EU leaders affirming that government accepted “ownership of the adjustment programme and is fully committed to its targets, its objectives and all its key policies.”
Lagarde’s remarks neatly bookend comments she made just weeks prior to the election, in which she insisted that there was no alternative to the mass social immiseration being imposed in Greece. Asked by the Guardian if she was “essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europe, you’ve had a nice time and now it’s payback time,” she responded, “That’s right.”
Prior to the visit of leading troika officials, their technical teams have been working with government ministry officials to establish the exact state of Greece’s finances. According to the right-wing daily Kathemerini, they will detail any “progress in implementing agreed-on reforms, before compiling an audit that creditors will use as the basis for negotiations when they return to Athens…”
The troika is acting like a liquidator, collecting debts on behalf of the global banks by selling assets and demanding cuts. And it is the Greek working class that is being made to pay.
Since the onset of the global crisis in 2007, the Greek economy has been plunged into a recession made worse by the demands of the troika. After five years of shrinkage, the economy is set to contract by nearly seven percent this year. Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said Tuesday, “We will present information [to the troika officials] that is astounding. It is alarming in terms of the recession and unemployment, and it shows beyond any doubt that the current policy does not bring results.”
But even as it warns of the results of such policies, the government is making clear that it will carry out further measures, including the closures or merger of around 60 state-funded organisations, many of which provide vital social and cultural services. To meet the rapacious demands of the banks and European corporations, it plans a fire-sale privatisation of whole sectors of the Greek economy. The Financial Times reported, “plans to accelerate privatisation and other structural measures aimed at persuading international lenders that it is serious about speedy economic reform.”
The FT cited a finance ministry official stating, “We intend to put a big emphasis on disposals in order to send a message that Greece is changing. That could mean privatising a hardcore case as an example, such as PPC,” the electricity utility.
Six planned privatisations that could not be carried out because of elections in May and June will be revived, and the privatisation of the state railway service and Agricultural Bank of Greece added to them, revealed the official.
Figures released in the last week demonstrate the almost unfathomable scale of the social counter-revolution unleashed against the Greek people. Millions are already living in desperate poverty and over a million more will shortly lose their unemployment benefit entitlement, a pittance of 360 euros a month. The Institute of Labour, affiliated to the main trade union federation, released statistics showing that by next month only 165,000 of the more than one million jobless Greeks will still receive unemployment benefits. This is because the two-year period of benefit entitlement was reduced to one, as demanded by the troika.
An advisor to the Institute, Giorgos Romanias, predicted that the unemployed will total nearly 30 percent by the end of the year. The Institute had previously forecast an increase to 1.48 million. According to figures from the official ASE agency, in June 1.8 million Greeks were registered as unemployed in a nation of just 11.3 million. Statistics made available by the Institute’s scientific director, Professor Savas Robolis, show that in real terms, available income of Greek employees, after taxes, has been reduced by 50 percent since 2009.
The cost of labour to employers has fallen drastically. Robolis said that unitary labour costs have been reduced by 8 percent in the last two years. Under the terms of the memorandum, an additional reduction of 15 percent is to be in place by 2014. The insistence by Lagarde that there can be no back-tracking on the Memorandum punches a gaping hole in the claim of all the main Greek political parties—including SYRIZA—that compromises with the troika were possible. SYRIZA’s main point of disagreement with ND and PASOK was its argument that, given the developing crisis of the eurozone and the recent bailout of the Spanish and Italian banks, a more aggressive stance was possible in negotiating on behalf of the bourgeoisie, while still preserving Greece’s position in the EU and the euro.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras was billed as a “Guest of Honour and Keynote Speaker” at a conference this week in Athens, sponsored by Britain’sEconomist magazine. Before an audience who had paid more than 1,200 euros-a-head (significantly more than the average monthly wage of a Greek worker), Tsipras again called for the debt to be re-negotiated—only criticising the ND coalition for sending a “clear message that it has given up on Europe before it has even started.”
The Greek banking elite would have been heartened to hear first hand from Tsipras of SYRIZA’s policy of handing over billions of euros to them in the form of a direct recapitalization from the European Finance Stability Fund.
Tsipras spoke despite the conference being called under the heading of “16th Roundtable with the Government of Greece.” It is further proof that SYRIZA’s promotion of itself as a strenuous defender of Greek capitalism and a political force dedicated to heading off mass social opposition to further cuts has been heard by its target audience.
On Wednesday, SYRIZA announced its shadow cabinet, stating it “will be exercising hands-on, combative and responsible opposition, with strict oversight and also with its own proposals”. It established a committee “to deal exclusively with matters concerning the application of the memorandum signed by Greece and its lenders for structural reforms,” reportedKathemerini.

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Conflicts emerge in formation of new Greek government

By Christoph Dreier 
27 June 2012
The resignation of Finance Minister-designate Vasilis Rapanos and the appointment of Yannis Stournaras have brought to light conflicts in the formation of the new Greek government. One week after the elections, in which a clear majority once again voted against the austerity measures prescribed by the EU, coalition partners cannot agree on how to enforce further social attacks. At the same time, the EU is also increasing its pressure to implement the agreed cuts quickly.
The conservative New Democracy (ND) had the highest vote total at just 29.6 percent, but because of the undemocratic electoral system it was awarded 129 of the 300 parliamentary seats. Although a coalition with the social democratic PASOK would have been enough to form a government, the new Prime Minister Andonis Samaras decided to include the small Democratic Left (DIMAR) in the government.
It was under these conditions that Rapanos (PASOK) was chosen as the new finance minister. He has close ties to the governing party of the last three years, largely responsible for implementing the social cuts. He often served as a consultant on issues of economic policy. Most recently, he was CEO of the private National Bank of Greece, not only the largest creditor of the Greek state, but with €6.9 billion, the largest beneficiary of the bank bailout in May.
DIMAR and PASOK proposed their other cabinet seats be filled by non-partisan “experts” and did not put forward any party politicians. But more than any other, Rapanos was seen as the representative of the banks and creditors in the government.
He justified his resignation on grounds of poor health; last week, shortly before he was sworn in he suffered a dizzy spell. He has several chronic diseases.
According to various reports, however, the real reason was his dissatisfaction with the new cabinet. When he was asked to be finance minister, he had expected that the government would consist mainly of technocrats, according to the Financial Times. As in Italy, such a technocrat government would enforce the measures necessary in the eyes of the banks and European powers without regard to party political interests.
Rapanos’ decision was likely due to the appointment of two ministries—economy and labour—with which he would have had to work closely as minister of finance. With Kostis Hatzidakis and Giannis Vroutsis, these went to conservative politicians.
The resignation also expresses a general dissatisfaction by the European lenders with the formation of the new government. Samaras has chosen not to appoint technocrats and instead is relying on old cliques and networks.
The new Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos opened the way for Samaras to become the chair of ND through his resignation in 2009. In return, Samaras appointed Avramopoulos his shadow foreign minister at the time. Similar stories can be told about almost every minister in the new government.
In addition, on Saturday the new government announced not only that it would reduce taxes for the wealthy, but also convert the pending layoffs in the public sector into early retirement. In the past, the senior civil service has been one of the most important social supports of the two traditional Greek parties.
In order to implement these measures, the government plans to ask the troika comprising the European Central Bank (ECB), European Commission (EC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an easing of credit arrangements. In concrete terms, the cuts are to be extended by two years.
With the continuation of nepotism and strengthening of the old boys’ network, ND and PASOK intend to create conditions to impose new cuts on the working class. The government is simply afraid it will lose control otherwise.
Rapanos’ resignation is a sign that the representatives of the banks and the Troika do not agree even with such small concessions, but are instead calling for further cuts.
On Sunday, speaking in the tone of a colonial master, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (Christian Democratic Union) told the tabloid Bildthat the “most important task” of the new government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was now to “implement the already agreed programme quickly, immediately and without hesitation, instead of asking again, what more the others could do.”
Last week, the Greek news magazine To Vima reported that officials from the Troika had complained that some 50,000 too few civil servants had been sacked over the past two years compared with what had been agreed. Official unemployment in Greece is already almost 23 percent, and more than 50 percent among young people.
In a telephone call on Monday, President Barack Obama also put Samaras under pressure. He said the new government should implement all the necessary reforms and work closely with the Troika.
The short visit to Athens by the Troika planned for Monday was postponed to early July because of Rapanos’ resignation and the prime minister having to undergo an eye operation. For this reason, Greece will probably not be the focus of discussion at the EU summit at the end of the week. Behind the scenes, however, all the strings are already being pulled.
PASOK has now put forward Yannis Stournaras as the new finance minister. The 55-year-old was also a banker, and is now an economics professor at the University of Athens. He was a member of the Greek Central Bank and chair of the Greek commercial bank.
Stournaras is considered to be extremely business friendly and participated in the negotiations for Greek accession to the euro. He is also chief of the pro-employer Institute of Economics and Industrial Research. His stated goal is to retain Greek membership in the euro zone by all means. However, in contrast to Rapanos, he has spoken in favour of a renegotiation of credit arrangements.
A “compromise candidate”, the selection of Stournaras makes clear that there is no fundamental difference between the line of ND and that of PASOK. Both parties want to continue the austerity measures and enforce them against the people, as they did under Prime Minister George Papandreou since December last year in the previous joint coalition.
The conflict over the manner of implementing these measures reflects the increasing aggressiveness with which the ruling elite is willing to continue the austerity policy. The logical consequence of this policy is the open oppression of any working class resistance. With Dimitris Elevsiniotis and Panagiotis Karampeloas, the new government now also includes two retired military officers.
In its plans, the government is able to rely on the largest opposition party SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Alternative Left). SYRIZA participated in the elections in order to channel workers’ resistance, and if necessary, even to enter the government to implement EU diktats.
After the election, its leading candidate Alexis Tsipras hastened to congratulate Samaras and defended his election—despite lacking a majority—as a “decision of the people”. He assured Samaras that SYRIZA would be a “responsible” opposition that would not call for strikes or demonstrations.

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New Democracy heads austerity coalition in Greece

By Julie Hyland 
21 June 2012
New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras was sworn in as Greece’s new prime minister Wednesday evening, heading a coalition government with the social democratic PASOK and the Democratic Left.
Greece is once again headed by a government comprised of the two parties—ND and PASOK—that have reduced workers and youth to penury over the last five years. And all three coalition partners are committed to further draconian austerity measures under the €130 billion bailout memorandum signed with the troika—the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund—in March.
While final details of government posts are to be outlined, the announcement that National Bank Chairman Vassilis Rapanos is to be finance minister is a statement of intent.
The agreement took three days to finalise after Sunday’s elections gave New Democracy a narrow three percent lead over SYRIZA (the coalition of the radical left), leaving it far short of a majority.
Greece’s political elite was under intense pressure to speedily cobble together as broad-based a coalition as possible that would be able to push through the memorandum. The three parties have stressed their commitment to the memorandum, pleading only for a shift in its timescale. With the financial markets turning their aim against Spain and Italy, they are pinning their hopes on concessions from the EU and Germany in particular.
The conservative daily Ekathimerini quoted Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker stating that the dire economic situation in Greece meant “we could talk about extending the time frame.”
But this was immediately contradicted by Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, who said that any further financial aid was dependent on the government sticking to the memorandum. “There is an agreement with Greece, and that counts,” he said.
A refusal to countenance any loosening in the timetable is, in fact, the least of the new government’s problems. More fundamental is the social reaction that it faces as it seeks to press ahead with EU diktats.
Under the memorandum, Greece is committed to outlining additional spending cuts this month of €11.7 billion—equal to 5.5 percent of national output. Monitors for the troika are due back in Athens immediately to check on the progress made so far on the austerity programme, before agreeing to the next bailout instalment.
The instalment is, in fact, of negligible value for Greece, since most of it goes to pay off foreign creditors. According to reports, during the six-week election campaign, the government had stopped paying its bills. On Wednesday it was announced that the country had managed to narrowly avert an energy crisis after the gas supplier DEH secured an emergency €100 million bank loan from the state-run Loans and Consignment Fund.
With Greece entirely dependent on foreign supplies of natural gas, mainly from Russia, it was scrambling to pay its bills. Athens News cited a DEH official that the loan “gives us a breather to pay for July and August deliveries.”
Greece’s economy is expected to shrink by a further 7 percent this year as a direct result of the austerity measures already imposed. According to the Athens Chamber of Commerce, some 68,000 businesses have closed over the last 17 months, and a further 36,000 are expected to close in the next year.
More than one in four people are jobless, rising to one in two among youth. Wages have been cut by up to 50 percent and pensions slashed.
While the various parties haggled over the terms of their coalition agreement, thousands of people queued from early Wednesday morning in Pedio tou Areo Park for a free handout of fruit and vegetables by producers from Crete. In the end, the distribution began several hours before its allocated 10.00 a.m. start due to the sheer numbers waiting and was finished within three hours.
In the face of the immense social distress already inflicted by Greece’s ruling elite in cahoots with the EU, the coalition is tasked with imposing even harsher attacks. This includes the large-scale privatisation of state assets to raise €50 billion and “structural” labour reforms, giving employers the power to hire and fire at will.
Some 15,000 public sector posts are to be eliminated this year as part of a plan to cut the overall number by 150,000. Total government spending is to be cut by €480 million and pension costs reduced by €300 million this year alone.
In the meantime, ND has outlined additional polices to cut corporation tax and the top rate of individual tax to 15 percent and 32 percent respectively.
While the coalition may have a 29-seat parliamentary majority, it has no mandate for this programme. As Reuters noted bluntly, “With Greek society deeply split, a repeat of the violent anti-austerity protests seen last year is a constant threat.”
It is concern over the inevitable social conflict that will result that had delayed the formal announcement of a coalition deal until Wednesday. Both PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left, a splinter from Syriza, have said that no leading members of their party will take cabinet seats.
This effort to distance themselves from the coalition’s plans is cynical in the extreme. As finance minister in the last administration, Venizelos negotiated the memorandum with the troika. PASOK and the Democratic Left have made clear they will “actively support” ND and will help “advise” on appointments.
Their concern is that, should their parties openly assume leading positions in the new administration, they will be wiped out completely. Both parties saw their support fall in Sunday’s election, with PASOK retaining just 33 seats and the Democratic Left 17. Much of their vote went to SYRIZA, which had claimed to oppose the memorandum while insisting that Greece must remain in the eurozone at all costs.
ND, PASOK and the Democratic Left had hoped to persuade SYRIZA to join a “National Salvation” government. On Wednesday, Venizelos stressed that the government’s priority must be the establishment of a cross-party group to conduct negotiations with the troika, and called on SYRIZA to take part.
SYRIZA has declined, but its role is no less duplicitous. On Wednesday, party leader Alexis Tsipras claimed that “Nobody else but us can carry out the deep reforms the country needs because we are not corrupt or worn out. Sooner or later, we will get this opportunity.”
Tspiras did not specify the “deep reforms” necessary, other than to call for more effective tax collection and for an end to what he described as the “huge and unbelievable waste in the public sector.”
Immediately Sunday’s results were in, Tspiras congratulated Samaras on his victory, explicitly ruled out SYRIZA attempting to form a government in opposition to ND and pledged the coalition would act as a “responsible” opposition.
Subsequently, Tspiras has spelt out that SYRIZA will not lead efforts to mobilise social opposition to the new government. In an interview Tuesday, he said, “Solidarity and resistance are both important, but right now solidarity is the most important. Our role is to be inside and outside parliament, applauding anything positive and condemning all that is negative and proposing alternatives.”

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Prospective coalition parties in Greece pledged to impose deeper cuts

By Julie Hyland 
20 June 2012
Athens is expected to announce a “national salvation” coalition headed by the conservative New Democracy (ND), whose objective is to press ahead with the austerity measures agreed with the troika—the European Union, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Under intense pressure from the financial markets and world powers meeting at the G20 in Mexico, negotiations continued Tuesday night between ND head and prime minister designate Antonis Samaras, Evangelos Venizelos for the social democratic PASOK, and Fotis Kouvelis of the smaller Democratic Left, a right-wing split-off from SYRIZA (the coalition of the radical left).
The talks were described as extremely productive, with the outstanding issue being whether PASOK was prepared to take up leading ministerial positions. However, Venizelos stressed that PASOK would “actively support” the intended coalition.
Should the agreement be finalised, it will mean that the new government is essentially a continuation of the administration that was decisively rejected in the first round of elections in May, with the same clique of corrupt bourgeois politicians most closely associated with austerity—ND and PASOK—again in the lead role.
All three parties are pledged to implementing the memorandum agreed with the troika, pleading with the IMF and EU only for a variation in the timing of spending cuts.
The cuts, which amount to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product, were agreed in March, with Greece already in the fifth year of a recession and unemployment at 22 percent and more than 50 percent among youth. Wages have been cut by up to 50 percent, pensions slashed, and health, education and other social services devastated.
A report in the Guardian, “What’s in New Democracy’s intray?” setting out the main points that the planned coalition “will want to renegotiate” with the troika, made clear that even worse is to come.
Under the memorandum, any incoming government is committed to additional fiscal cuts of €11.7 billion this month. The troika is to return to Athens immediately upon formation of a government in order to scrutinise its plans.
Samaras and Venizelos have urged that the deadline for implementing these cuts be extended from 2014 to 2016. The Guardian suggests that Samaras will also outline a €650 million spending package targeted at pensioners, farmers, law enforcement officials and small businesses, to be paid for by new cuts elsewhere.
ND intends to stick to the agreement that the public-sector workforce be reduced by 150,000 people by 2015. As part of this, 15,000 civil servants are to be transferred to a “labour reserve,” i.e., placed on a basic salary for one year after which they will be fired. The only change proposed here is that the labour reserve be extended from one year to three years.
The main element of ND’s programme, however, is a plan to slash taxes on big business and the rich. According to the Guardian, ND intends to cut the corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 15 percent by next year and reduce the top individual tax rate from 45 percent to 32 percent.
In contrast, proposals for a “gradual reduction” in value-added tax (VAT) from 23 percent to 19 percent would be phased in “over the next three years.”
Reuters quoted a “senior New Democracy official” stating that his party would “support a quickening of the government’s privatisation programme,” which includes a sell-off of Greece’s major energy utilities.
These proposals are made under conditions where big business and the wealthy have evaded taxation for decades. According to a separate report in the Guardian, Greek ship owners, who control more than 15 percent of global merchant freight, enjoy tax-free profits.
“With their wealth offshore and highly secretive, the estimated 900 families who run the sector have the largest fleet in the world,” the newspaper noted. “As Athens’ biggest foreign currency earner after tourism, the industry remitted more than $175 billion (£112 billion) to the country in untaxed earnings over the past decade. Greece’s debt currently stands at €280 billion.”
This open pitch to the super-rich is made more extraordinary under conditions where widespread popular opposition to austerity has seen both ND and PASOK—the two parties that have alternated in power since the fall in the military junta in 1974—go into an electoral tailspin.
In May, ND secured 58 seats in the 300-member parliament and PASOK just 41. Even with the anti-democratic electoral mechanism which guarantees the lead party a top-up of 50 seats, the two were unable to form a government.
In last Sunday’s election, PASOK’s vote fell even further to 33 seats. The Democratic Left also fell from 19 to 17 seats.
ND’s tally increased slightly to 79 seats—129 with the 50 seat top-up. This is still far short of a majority. Its rise owes nothing to a revival in the party’s popularity, but is entirely due to the blackmail campaign by EU leaders and the international financial markets, which threatened that Greece could be thrown out of the euro zone and its economy destroyed if anti-memorandum parties won the day.
On this basis, ND was able to siphon some seats away from the Independent Greeks and the fascist Golden Dawn, amidst reports that some voters, usually hostile to ND, transferred their support on this occasion to avoid an exit from the euro zone. Even so, with a record 37.5 percent of voters abstaining, Samaras’ lead is extremely narrow.
In any event, it is a hollow victory. Not only is the intended coalition highly unstable and lacking any democratic mandate, its fortunes are dependent on minimal good will gestures from the IMF and EU. So far, EU leaders have made clear that—barring a possible slight variation in timing—there will be no fundamental change in the memorandum.
José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said that a new coalition must be “based on the largest majority… to ensure the memorandum.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was more explicit, declaring, “The important thing is that the new government sticks with the commitments that have been made. There can be no loosening on the reform steps.”
With the targets of financial speculators shifting to Spain and Italy, the European bourgeoisie are anxious to send no signal that they are prepared to relax their austerity diktats.
The return of ND and PASOK to power is entirely the responsibility of SYRIZA. The pseudo-left coalition was able to significantly increase its electoral support due to its stated opposition to the memorandum. But with SYRIZA making clear that its central priority was keeping Greece in the euro zone, this commitment was worthless.
In the lead-up to Sunday’s election, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras spent his time courting G20 leaders and penning articles in the Financial Times and other newspapers to reassure international capital that his party had no intention of taking any measures that would conflict with its interests.
On Sunday evening, Tspiras stressed that he had congratulated Samaras on his victory and stipulated that SYRIZA had no intention of seeking to form a government, as is its constitutional right, even if ND’s efforts to assemble a coalition failed.
Stating his party’s “respect” for the election outcome, Tspiras declared that, “a government should be formed from the core of ND, as it was the will of the people.”
Having thus endorsed an ND-led government, Tspiras went on to pledge that a “parliamentary opposition should be critical and responsible, and I have informed Mr. Samaras that we intend to be that.”
According to reports, PASOK leader Venizelos has said that the coalition’s priority must be the formation of a “national negotiating team” to engage with Greece’s international creditors. “There would be an open invitation for forces that are not participating in the government to participate in this national team,” he said, in what was widely interpreted as a call for SYRIZA to come onboard.

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Austerity not a Greek goal

By Pepe Escobar 

Talk about a dream rematch. This Friday, Monty Python’s epicGermany vs Greece philosophy football spectacular will be replayed, live, at Euro 2012. There won’t be “Plato in goal” and “Aristoteles as sweeper”, or “Nietzsche accusing [referee] Confucius of having no free will” – but one can savor the global impact in case a bunch of footballing Spartans forces the sleek “Onshela” Merkel’s team to exit the euro.



And especially after “Onshela” – as part of a highly choreographed fear campaign – could not help hectoring the Greeks ahead of last Sunday’s elections, prodding them to vote the right way, as in submitting to the German sado-austerity diktat. 
All across the Atlanticist West, the corporate media “narrative” depicted the slim victory of the right as a Greek collective decision not to exit the euro, at least for now. The Brussels eurocracy was ecstatic. Then, after a few minutes of financial tiki taka – as in Spain nonchalantly passing the ball in midfield – the God of the Market was back in business. 
The notion that the Greek vote is a good step for Europe is as far-fetched as the notion of a military coup in Egypt right before a presidential election won by the Muslim Brotherhood opening a gradual transition towards democracy. 
As much as the centurions of austerity were spinning a victory, what actually happened in the Greek elections was even more of a shift toward anti-bailout parties. The bailout is known in Greece as “the memorandum”. Austerity – led by the conservative New Democracy party – “won” with roughly 40% of the votes, while 52% of Greek voters actually supported “anti-memorandum” parties. 
Anyway, this soon proved irrelevant. On Monday, neoliberal Zeus – aka the God of the Market – was already focused on destroying tiki taka Spain to the tune of a 7.28% interest rate. Zeus is by definition insatiable; in his present-day form he always wants to devour more pensioners, more unemployed, more young unemployed, more public assets, anyway, anyhow, anywhere, no matter the nationality. 
Even if the conservatives form a coalition government in Greece, and manage to extract a few, minimalistic, nominal concessions from the German-led sado-austerity front, the only game in (Greek) town will remain a social and economic wasteland; social security in collapse; hospital shortages; one in four workers unemployed; 7 out of 10 young unemployed aged between 18 and 24 dying to emigrate; migrants attacked by neo-Nazis; businesses closing down by the thousands. 
And eventually the ones to truly benefit will be the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn, already capturing 7% of the vote. 
Bankers in bondage
It all goes back to the supreme categorical imperative; how can the eurozone possibly survive as we know it when its raison d’etre – economic and financial integration – is collapsing? 
The real financial powers that are behind “Onshela” Merkel don’t want eurobonds or any kind of collective support to the banking system. They are sado-austerity fetishists. The only thing that matters for them is what they perceive as German national interest – not “Europe”. 
The French, for their part, are busy working on an 11-page “Growth Pact for Europe” – their contribution for a key summit on June 28-29 when the eurocratic maze (European Commission, European Council, Eurogroup, European Central Bank) will more or less (not) decide the next steps. 
Essentially, Germany wants a political union – a federalization – before discussing anything else, while France wants a progressive road map to be followed over the next 10 years; for the French, a political union is not a necessary condition for financial solidarity. 
US President Barack Obama is the top cheerleader of what the French are saying; first we need to be back on the business of economic growth, otherwise we’re all crashing against the wall. This means immediate financial solidarity – as in a banking union. Yet the German sado-austerity club interprets all this as the other Europeans piggybacking on their financial clout and thus not doing the hard work to get their economies back on track. 
In thesis, the Atlanticist West is furiously discussing all this at the Group of 20 gathering in Los Cabos, Mexico. Here the shallow Atlanticist corporate media spin is that “Western decisions today will – and indeed must – influence whether Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey support the global order of tomorrow.” [1] 
This is nonsense. BRICS members Brazil and India and future BRICS like Indonesia and Turkey are in fact astonished at the degree of Western indecision, or prostration, at the feet of the neo-liberal Zeus. They want a radically different “global order of tomorrow” – starting with finding their own escape routes from the contamination caused by the eurozone debacle. 
If only the Monty Python match could be reenacted. Kant would insist on a critique of pure reason while Plato would insist we all live in a cave and can only identify shadows. It would be, essentially, a draw, and everybody would remain in the euro. 
Note:
1. See Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 2012 
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 
He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com 
(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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What way forward in Greece?

19 June 2012
New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras is expected to form a coalition government in Greece tasked with implementing the brutal austerity measures agreed with the troika—the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.
The ND victory is above all an indictment of SYRIZA, which emerged as the main opposition party, and its claim that austerity can be opposed without a struggle to overthrow the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie.
Greece’s general election starkly confirmed the absence of any recourse through the existing political setup to combat the dictates of the troika and the banks.
ND’s victory was the end result of a campaign based on naked blackmail. One European leader after another threatened that a vote against ND—the main party endorsing the austerity memorandum signed with the troika—would lead to an immediate freeze on money used to bail out Greek banks, a forced Greek withdrawal from the euro zone, and a catastrophic economic collapse.
Even so, parties formally opposed to the memorandum secured a majority, with SYRIZA’s vote reaching 27 percent. A record 37.5 percent abstained. This reflects broad-based disgust with the entire political establishment, as well as the inability of many voters to pay for traveling from their home villages to the cities and back in order to vote.
Though only 40 percent of those who did vote backed the parties overtly supporting the memorandum, ND and the social democratic PASOK, these two despised parties are reportedly in talks to form a government. They would have a parliamentary majority thanks to the 50-seat bonus ND receives as the winning party under Greece’s anti-democratic electoral laws. Such a government will have no popular mandate for its policies and only paves the way for a confrontation between the bourgeoisie and the working class.
Samaras knows his position is precarious, hence his attempt to create “a salvation government” including “as many parties as possible”—the Democratic Left, a splinter from SYRIZA, and another small party—combined with talk of renegotiating aspects of the agreement.
European leaders dismissed any possibility of a significant shift on their demands, reiterating their pre-election threats. At the G20 in Mexico, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated baldly, “The important thing is that the new government sticks with the commitments that have been made. There can be no loosening on the reform steps.”
That the majority of the electorate still refused to endorse the memorandum or took no part in a ballot portrayed as determining the future of Greece and the entire EU is proof of the deep hostility aroused by the savage cuts imposed since 2009. However, SYRIZA only channeled this opposition into a political dead end.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras spent the campaign reassuring the ruling elite that he was committed to the EU and repaying Greece’s debts through stepped-up tax collection, desiring only small concessions and a more extended repayment period. To workers, he insisted that opposition to the EU and to capitalism was unrealizable, unrealistic and a road to national suicide.
This reflects the class interests and the political illusions of the affluent middle class layers for which SYRIZA speaks. Though they are angry at the unfolding political disaster in Greece, SYRIZA’s leaders are organically hostile to a socialist strategy to fight it: the broad mobilization of the entire European working class in struggle against the EU and capitalism.
SYRIZA now plans to act as a loyal opposition. Yesterday Tsipras absurdly claimed that an ND government was in accordance with the “mandate of the people.” Opposition “should be critical and responsible, and I have informed Mr. Samaras that we intend to be that,” he said.
The paralysing impact of SYRIZA’s line and the support it received from pseudo-left groups internationally allows the ruling elite freedom of action, even as mass opposition to austerity evidenced in Greece spreads throughout Europe. Parties associated with austerity measures, whatever their formal coloration, are routinely punished at the polls: Spain’s PSOE, the Socialist Party in Portugal, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Sarkozy’s UMP in France are among the victims. Each government that replaces them pushes for more austerity and runs into a political backlash and stiff resistance from the working class, however.
For this reason, there is no confidence in ruling circles that what they do in Greece—including more savage cuts and possibly forcing Greece out of the euro zone—will prevent a political and economic catastrophe.
Markets fell sharply despite ND’s victory in Greece. Spain and Italy’s bonds continue to be targeted by speculators, and bank shares also fell in Germany and France. Institute of International Finance chief Charles Dallara warned the G20 leaders: “The risk of a global recession again, for the second time in four years, is very real.”
Under such conditions, the “Plan B” SYRIZA and its counterparts urge the ruling class to adopt will not be a turn away from austerity, but more deep-going attacks on the working class. These will be imposed by whatever means necessary—including a resort to police-military repression.
Workers and youth throughout Europe must draw the central lesson of Greece and make a decisive change in political course. The bitter experience of Greece confirms that the task at hand is not to reform the EU or pressurise its constituent governments for concessions, under the leadership of pseudo-left parties like SYRIZA.
New parties of the working class must be built to mobilise an industrial and political offensive against big business, its parties and governments and their collective enforcers in the EU and IMF. The goal must be workers’ governments organised within a United Socialist States of Europe. Nothing less than the construction of such a genuinely socialist and internationalist leadership—sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International—will do.
Chris Marsden


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Greece: What Can be Done?

by James Petras


In the midst of a fear-mongering campaign, the Greek people are voting today in a re-run election that could allegedly decide whether their country remains in the euro zone or heads for the exit. James Petras considers that the crisis engulfing Greece should be seized as an opportunity to put her on the road to a productive and equitable economy. Default and reverting to the drachma are the two main tools that, according to him, would pull Greece out of the debt-austerity spiral and allow it to regain sovereignty over its economic and monetary affairs.
VOLTAIRE NETWORK | NEW YORK (UNITED STATES) 
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Introduction
Greece faces the unenviable choice between accepting the terms of “the Troika” and facing the continuation and deepening of a socio-economic crises, which includes five years of negative growth, over 23% unemployment, an astronomical rise in poverty (from less than 15% to over 40%) and mounting suicides, or a rejection of the “memorandum”, and a likely cut-off of Eurozone funding and capital markets with virtually few reserves to cover salaries, pensions or public services.
While the immediate cost of a break with catastrophic conditions imposed by Eurozone bankers may be high, it opens up the possibility of transforming the internal and external relations and structures which led Greece to ground zero.
Crises as Opportunity?
The prolonged and unending downward spiral of the Greek economy and living standards, the disastrous and destructive policies pursued by the formerly dominant two parties (PASOK and New Democracy) has conclusively demonstrated that Greek “capitalism” and EEC integration has been an unmitigated disaster; tried tested and failed to meet the minimum standards of human existence. Only dogmatic true believers in the innate virtues of ‘capitalism’ and the EEC can continue to prattle about the “need” to continue the same “austerity” policies which have devastated the lives of 80% of the people, closed half the business establishments in the country and fails to provide jobs for half of the young labor force (under 30 years of age).
The profound crises demonstrates the need for basic changes in the organization of the economy, the urgency for new political leadership and the desire for a new political system responsive to the vast majority.
The old ruling oligarchies are totally discredited. The existing links to the EEC only bleed the economy: providing loans which deepen debt and which pass through the economy to overseas bankers. EEC ‘integration’ is in fact a great suction pump which depresses the economy and living standards in order to extract wealth for overseas bondholders.
No capitalist or politician of the old order provides any redeeming argument. In the past they plundered the economy; in the present they extract and transfer wealth abroad; and for the future they can only promise more of the same.
The basic challenge is not the abysmal conditions of the present but the opportunity that exists for a fundamental transformation. The problem is fashioning a transition from an unmitigated disaster to an equitable, dynamic and participatory economy. The problem facing a transition is the flawed structural and behavioral features of contemporary Greek society, polity and economy. Greece is deeply embedded with the legacy of a culture of pervasive state-party corruption and kleptocracy and bloated expenditures for the military and cliental bureaucracies. Most important Greece is dominated by rent seeking economic elites which pretend to be capitalists, but profit from state and overseas handouts from the Eurozone bankers and states.
To effect a transition requires that we first face the negative legacy of the past an order to see what proposals are viable and necessary.
The Negative Legacy and Debt Default: Greece is not Argentina
Many radical critics of the ‘austerity’ and debt crises in Greece cite the “Argentine example” of debt default, (over $100 billion dollars) and its ability to fashion a successful recovery and growth model based on ‘self-financing’. The critical advocates ignore the profound differences in the economic and social structures of the two countries as well as their respective locations in the regional economies.
Argentina, at the bottom of its crises, was actually in a worse situation than Greece today. Unemployment hovered between 25% – 30% and over 50% in many working class districts, compared to 24% in Greece. Poverty levels in Argentina exceeded 45%; in Greece they exceed 35%. The depression in Argentina led to a negative growth rate of approximately 20% over the 3 year duration, equal to the loss in Greece over the past 5 years.
Despite starting from a more difficult and worse situation Argentina had several strategic advantages.
In the first place, in Argentina the ouster from power of the crises driven ruling elite was affected by a mass popular uprising (December 2001 – January 2002). In Greece, while mass demonstrations have certainly politicized, mobilized and radicalized a part of the electorate, the radical coalition vying for power (SYRIZA), has taken the electoral route. Secondly, the Argentine upheaval was a continuous process as mass unemployed picketers (piqueteros) blocked all roads and transport as a negotiating tool to ensure that resources were transferred from debt payments to unemployed workers’ family allowances and in reviving the economy. In Greece the vast army of unemployed has neither the organized capacity to sustain constant transport blockage nor can they count on neighborhood and trade union organizations for anything more than repeated one day work stoppages and marches.
Argentina immediately drastically devaluated its currency – eliminating the dollar peg – from one to one, to three to one and vastly increased the competitiveness of Argentine export products. The center-left regime encouraged the substitution of local products for costly imports. Argentina, unlike Greece was not part of a currency union and could set its own currency rate. Greece, is bound to the euro and will have to convert to the drachma in order to take control over its finances, currency rate and monetary and investment policy tools.
Argentina possessed a substantial industrial – manufacturing sector, idled by the crises, but with the worker-engineering-management capacity to respond to a new stimulus program. In addition, Argentina had a dynamic highly competitive agro-business sector, a world leader in beef, grains and soya, as well as energy (oil) and mineral wealth, which the center-left regime could activate.
Greece, during its 30 year membership in the European Union actually saw its meager and backward manufacturing and agricultural base shrink, in the face of cheap and better imports from developed capitalist countries like Germany, France, Holland and elsewhere. Unlike Argentina, Greece received billions of dollars in “transfers”, compensation funds to upgrade its economy and competitiveness and prepare it for full integration (lowering of tariff barriers). However, the “transfers” were not channeled into productive activity either by the two ruling parties or by the ‘capitalists’ and ‘farmers’. The ruling parties used the transfers to build extensive electoral patronage machines; they squandered funds for overpriced state contracts to provide builders engaged in non-productive building projects (including the multi-billion dollar swindle around the Olympic Games). Tens of thousands of unemployed graduates and party loyalists bloated the national, regional and local bureaucracy, increasing consumption, blocking any meaningful productive activity.
Capitalists designed “productive projects and then transferred EU- loans and handouts to local and overseas real estate investments and luxury purchases. The Greek elite transferred loans to London, Swiss and Cypriot bank accounts – while the government signed off as ultimate guarantor.
In the agriculture sector, many property holders were doctors, dentists, lawyers and high officials who used the ownership of a few dozen olive or orange trees to receive low interest loans, import tax free luxury 4 x 4 vehicle imports and to build second or third vacation houses .Many farmers who received loans and grants, purchased land for homes for their married children or for extra room to rent to tourists or to send their sons and daughters to overseas universities.
Most important, the economic elite – bankers, ship owners, construction-real estate – politicians, speculators skimmed off billions from the EEC transfers in the form of illicit loans to cronies and in the form of fees, management charges for credit dealings and pension funding.
The European bankers, government officials and exporters were acutely aware that the “transfers” were being pillaged – but they went along, for obvious reasons of economic and political gain: lucrative interest payments flowed into their coffers; exporters took over Greek consumer markets; bankers and investment houses found willing pension fund manager’s ‘open’ to dubious investments. Even tourists enjoyed the sun and imports which reminded them of home: wiener schnitzel, English ale, Dutch feta. Moreover, Greece spent 15% of its budget on the military, serving NATO goals and bases.
Contrary to superficial appearances, Greece was not ruled by capitalists, small business people and farmers’ as some political scientists claim. Greece was ruled by an extensive class of kleptocrats, tax evaders and rentiers who pillaged, borrowed, consumed and invested overseas. Technologically Greece was among the most backward agro-manufacturing countries. Its overseas trained and educated professionals, returned and ‘adapted’ to the kleptocratic-rentier culture: most held several positions in public-private activities, guaranteeing a mediocre performance and conflicts of interests.
In summary Greece is not Argentina. A Greek default is an absolute necessity to begin the process of transition toward a productive and equitable economy. But the horrendous Greek legacy raises a whole series of new problems and challenges with few economic resources and in the absence of leading productive classes.
The Difficult Road Out of Crises
Any road map out of the Greek crises will be difficult, complex, and arduous – given the “scorched earth” economy which a left government (LG) will inherit. The first and most basic concern of a LG is to end the policies and especially the agreements with the “Troika” that demand further mass firings of public employees, the reduction in social services, the cuts in minimum wages and pensions. A new LG needs to impose a series of emergency measures to avoid economic bankruptcy.
It is absolutely clear that European bankers and regimes want to punish Greece for transgressions of their “austerity pact”. If Greece should succeed in renouncing the austerity pact, the Euro bankers fear that other countries – Spain, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus and Ireland might follow suite.
Greece should suspend debt payments, impose tight capital controls and freeze bank deposits to avoid capital flight, in the face of the Troika cut-off of funding. The LG should convoke a series of emergency commissions to (1) secure alternative sources of emergency financing from several reserve funds with Euro holdings. They must seek loans from Russia, Iran, Venezuela, China and other states not beholden to the Troika (2) make an inventory of available and potential productive enterprises – bankrupt or troubled firms, indebted enterprises – and convert them into state sponsored worker-employee operated co-operatives (3) investigate public debt to determine what can be classified as ‘legitimate’(loans channeled into productive employment) or illegitimate (loans that enriched speculators, corrupt contractors, political leaders) (4) investigate and attach overseas holdings of wealthy Greeks who were engaged in multi-year multi-million tax evasion and who accumulated illicit income via unpaid loans and money laundering. Greek auditors should proceed to demand that Eurozone creditors should collect debt payments from the bank accounts of wealth Greeks who laundered and deposited in London, Zurich, Frankfurt, New York and elsewhere.
The principle of the LG should be “those who borrowed the loans and profited, should pay them”. The European bankers who lent to corrupt politicians and business kleptocrats must assume the loss, for failing to exercise “due diligence” – oversight into the viability of the activity they were financing. After all private business ‘justifies’ its profits by the “risks” it takes. In the case of Greece, Euro-bankers’ demands that private bank loans and repayments be “guaranteed” by the state (no matter how badly they were managed) risk ‘moral hazard’: Guaranteeing bankers’ profits, irrespective of their ‘soundness’, encourages a repetition of reckless speculation such as had transpired in Greece over the past 30 years.
The LG should repudiate illegal debts (the vast majority) and renegotiate and roll-over the rest over an extended time frame, pending an economic recovery.
What should be recognized is that past Greek governments (despite being formally elected) engaged in illegitimate activity which prejudiced the sovereignty, productive capacity and livelihood of an entire people.
What is not acceptable is to force an entire people to sacrifice their lives because a minority of Greeks borrowed and didn’t invest or pay their debts to overseas creditors. Currently the kleptocratic millionaires are given “cover” and their illicit multi-billion Euro bank accounts and real-estate holdings are protected by the banks demanding payments from the Greek government. Their current demands are based on a savage demolition of living standards for a whole people. For outstanding obligations, the Greek LG can transfer tax debts of Greek tax evaders to creditors, letting them attach the overseas accounts of their Greek clients.
The LG can self-finance a recovery by drastically changing budget priorities: mainly by slashing its military budgets. Greece’s military expenditures as a percentage of its total budget, is one of the highest in the European Union. By eliminating expenditures for NATO operations, overseas military expedition and numerous military bases, a LG can prioritize industrial and service investments.
Greece needs a (1) growth tax – a flat tax on the self-employed – professions, shop keepers, hotels, etc. – to ensure that they pay their share in financing the new economy. While the very rich engaged in mega swindles and evasions, it was also the case that the 50% self-employed sector imitated their behavior at the micro-level (2) a tourist tax – at airports, ferry-docks, tour ships stops – with tight oversight and or replacement of corrupt tax inspectors/collectors and customs officials who take a big cut of proceeds. Incarceration of corrupt officials should be mandatory. (3) A real estate tax which reflects the real value of land and property, especially of unused or uncultivated lands. (4) A tax on financial transactions and an end to tax exemptions for major banks, corporations and so-called property developers.
Exploiting Unused or Underutilized Human Resources
The new government has many sources of ‘human capital’ – hundreds of thousands of unemployed young educated people who can be mobilized for work in productive activity through selective public investments in priority areas, especially outside of the “greater Athens region”.
There are many regions and islands which have the potential to provide income and employment, properly addressed. One of the most salient is in food processing; one of the many perversities of the Greek economy is the production and exports of apples and citrus products to Germany and the import of juices. Another is the failure to link local food and manufacturing to the 14 million tourist sector. Most food and furniture is imported; most vacation packages benefit overseas multi-nationals and foreign transport agencies.As a result the Greek economy and labor force derives a small share of total income from its “leading sector”. Greece with 300 days of sun is ideal for solar energy development.
The New Economy Cannot be Built with Kleptocrats of the Past
As mentioned above, Greece had few if any real entrepreneurs, who invested their own profits, invested in research and development and modernized their plant.
Public sector enterprises were overloaded with the unemployed ‘party members’, many virtually ‘no shows’; and many public sector unions engaged in nepotism and multiple-employment at the expense of efficient services, profitability and long-term development strategies. Public sector enterprises require a kind of re-nationalization’, to generate revenues and income to finance new jobs in new enterprises. Management of public enterprises should be transferred from the hands of stagnant ‘life time job-holders’ to dynamic workers – entrepreneurial – engineering management teams looking to broaden the scope and quality of activity within the new economy.
Pension funds and other savings must be mobilized alongside the billions retained by the state’s debt default to pay current expenses (pensions, salaries, basic imports etc.), to stimulate the revival of production among enterprises which show a willingness to rebuild the economy and which show a willingness to collaborate in activating production and employment. Public profits should finance worker takeovers of factories and services abandoned by their previous owners, of which there are thousands.
The public sector must take the lead in investing, servicing and producing to create “confidence” among the small and medium size producers. The public sector must take the lead in negotiating with potential lenders and economic partners outside the Eurozone: new markets and financial arrangements will be necessary if the Eurozone cuts off all funding as a consequence of debt default or a moratorium.
The danger is that SYRIZA follows through on the default and has no alternative emergency plan in place to respond to a Eurozone cut-off. In the face of an EU/IMF offensive and lacking an alternative, a sector of SYRIZA (ex. PASOK public sector unionists) may back-track and seek to accept some form of “renegotiated” pact … which would divide and undermine the prospects for a truly viable and radical transformation and condemn Greece to its catastrophic downward spiral.
Conclusion
SYRIZA has been raised to a serious contender for state power by the most devastating capitalist crises to affect a Western European country since WWII. It gained adherence through its dynamic grass roots organizing and the relative cohesion of its disparate components. It’s clear and forthright exposé of the corruption and pillage of the dominant parties and its image as a party with ‘clean hands’ has propelled it forward among a broad spectrum of classes, regions and generational groups. However, the very depth of the crises, the total pillage and emptying of the treasury by the kleptocratic political-business class and the dismantling of the entire productive sector and the transfer of billions of Euros abroad by the millionaire rentier class, has created an immensely difficult terrain from which to launch the necessary transformation.
The new government can and must guarantee the sovereignty of the nation by rejecting imperial dictates and end any further degradation (“austerity”) of the Greek people. Emancipation requires that first and foremost the new leadership takes the lead in making sacrifices: cutting out all the perks of office, salaries and overseas commitments. The new social priorities demand severe cuts in military budgets – bases, NATO, arms purchases. The new leaders must tell the Euro-bankers to collect payments from the accounts of the overseas billionaires who borrowed, bled the country and are now sheltered in the same banks.
The Left must move from criticism to practical deeds; from theorizing to creating jobs! Greece with a new government can put an end to open-ended austerity and decay. It can and must change its place in the international economy. In the final analysis, it is Greece’s last best hope.

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Conservatives narrowly win Greek election

By Chris Marsden 
18 June 2012
The conservative New Democracy narrowly defeated SYRIZA in Greece’s general election yesterday.
New Democracy won 30 percent of the vote. SYRIZA came in a close second with 26.5 percent, winning popular support based on its criticisms of austerity measures set forth in the Memorandum signed with the Troika—the European Union (EU), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB).
This sets the stage for intense negotiations over the formation of a coalition government. Coalition talks have a 48-hour deadline, according to most observers. The EU is demanding that they affirm a commitment to key terms of the second Greek bailout, worth €130 billion, which have already meant devastating social cuts and wrecked the country’s economy.
Throughout the election, the EU threatened to cut off credit to Greece if it objected to the bailout terms. This would force Greece to either accept the collapse of its financial system or reintroduce a Greek national currency to fund its banks. Greek officials said last week that unless a delayed €1 billion tranche of troika funding is paid, they will run out of funds to pay pensions and public sector wages by July 20.
These efforts to blackmail the Greek working class did not prevent SYRIZA’s vote increasing substantially from the 16.7 percent won in Greece’s previous election, held last month.
It is mathematically possible for New Democracy (ND) to form a coalition government based simply on the pro-Memorandum parties. Party leader Antonis Samaras said Greeks had voted to stay in the euro and called for a “national salvation government.”
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras agreed that ND should be the first to try to form a coalition.
The formation of an openly pro-Memorandum coalition faces significant obstacles, however. ND’s key ally in such a coalition—the social democratic PASOK, which won 12.5 percent of the vote—announced last night they would not join a coalition unless SYRIZA participated in it. The large SYRIZA vote and the general disaffection expressed in the low turnout convinced PASOK that it would be dangerous to proceed as if the pro-Memorandum parties had a mandate to rule.
PASOK proposed a national unity government of the four leading parties—also including the small Democratic Left, a right-wing split from SYRIZA. Its calculation was clear: a government that visibly defied the deep popular opposition to austerity in Greece by excluding SYRIZA would face mass opposition and be unable to govern effectively.
A failure to form a government would result in a third election and increase the likelihood of an expulsion of Greece from the euro zone.
New Democracy’s victory and its new chance to form a government are the result in the first place of naked intimidation by the European and international ruling elite.
In an interview Friday with Kathimerini, headlined “Europe is not bluffing on the exit,” Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said: “There is a deal which all parties have signed including the Greek government… we must not allow any country to blackmail us with the consequences of contagion.”
The interview was also run in other European newspapers, including Italy’sCorriere della Sera and Spain’s El Pais—as a threat to other countries facing a financial meltdown.
Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker warned the same day in the Austrian newspaper Kurier, “If the radical left wins—which cannot be ruled out—the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable.”
SYRIZA, a pro-capitalist formation committed to maintaining Greece’s position in the EU and the euro zone, was utterly incapable of combating these threats by appealing to opposition in the working class. Instead, despite its anti-austerity rhetoric, it did all it could during the election campaign to reassure the markets and Greece’s creditors of its good intentions.
MP and former deputy parliamentary speaker Tasos Kourakis toldKathimerini Saturday that SYRIZA’s economics team “will talk about restraining expenditures and attracting new funds, like EU structural funds.” He foresaw “a restructuring and rationalisation of public administration.”
He urged an international audit of Greece’s debt, seeking to exclude only that part of the debt due to bribes to “Siemens, defence procurement kickbacks and such.” He said, “We will pay the rest.”
Making clear that there would be no nationalisations of either banks or companies, he added, “If you pay heed to our wording, we call for public control… you can have the management without being a majority stockholder.”
SYRIZA’s overtures to the EU appear so far to have had little impact on Europe’s hard line. However, the ruling elite are aware that as well as a worsening financial crisis engulfing the whole of Europe, they face the danger of an explosion of working class protests with revolutionary implications.
The Sydney Morning Herald was one of many publications which surmised that Greece will eventually be forced out of the euro, “whatever the poll result.” But it warned that whereas “Greece is almost ungovernable these days… the problem is wider than economics. Social unrest has the potential to spread like wildfire.”
Under these conditions, SYRIZA could still be brought in from the cold to play the role of subordinating the working class to the dictates of the troika—particularly if the troika made a few cosmetic modifications to the bailout terms. In or out of government, SYRIZA plays the role of disorienting the working class and confining opposition to a perspective that does not threaten the fundamental interests of Greek and European capitalism.
Last night, Tsipras struck a mildly oppositional pose, while acknowledging that New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras “has the possibility of forming a government on the basis of his mandate and policies.”
“We will be present in developments in a position of opposition,” he said, though this was posed from the standpoint of a loyal critic advising the ND on its policies: “The government, the New Democracy, must bear in mind great issues—it can’t carry on as it used to without talking to the people.”
The central issue is not to persuade the next government to “talk to the people.” Such a government will be committed to a policy of attacking the working class.
The Greek bourgeoisie will do everything possible and resort to any and all methods—including police-military repression—to force workers to bear the brunt of the economic catastrophe resulting from the bourgeoisie’s speculative practices. The European powers will insist on their pound of flesh, whether or not they move immediately towards a forced Greek exit from the euro zone.
Greek workers and youth have already suffered an historic decline in their living standards. They will be ruined, forced to work for a pittance and left to rot if they for one moment think that negotiations with the EU will bring them respite.
Everything now depends upon the independent political mobilisation on the basis of a socialist program of the working class in Greece and throughout Europe, in opposition to the ruling class, its governments and the institutions of the EU.

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Greece: What Can be Done?

By James Petras

June 16, 2012 “Information Clearing House” — Greece faces the unenviable choice between accepting the terms of “the Troika” and facing the continuation and deepening of a socio-economic crises, which includes five years of negative growth, over 23% unemployment, an astronomical rise in poverty (from less than 15% to over 40%) and mounting suicides, or a rejection of the “memorandum”, and a likely cut-off of Eurozone funding and capital markets with virtually few reserves to cover salaries, pensions or public services.
While the immediate cost of a break with catastrophic conditions imposed by Eurozone bankers may be high, it opens up the possibility of transforming the internal and external relations and structures which led Greece to ground zero.
Crises as Opportunity?
The prolonged and unending downward spiral of the Greek economy and living standards, the disastrous and destructive policies pursued by the formerly dominant two parties (PASOK and New Democracy) has conclusively demonstrated that Greek “capitalism” and EEC integration has been an unmitigated disaster; tried tested and failed to meet the minimum standards of human existence. Only dogmatic true believers in the innate virtues of ‘capitalism’ and the EEC can continue to prattle about the “need” to continue the same “austerity” policies which have devastated the lives of 80% of the people, closed half the business establishments in the country and fails to provide jobs for half of the young labor force (under 30 years of age).
The profound crises demonstrates the need for basic changes in the organization of the economy, the urgency for new political leadership and the desire for a new political system responsive to the vast majority.
The old ruling oligarchies are totally discredited. The existing links to the EEC only bleed the economy: providing loans which deepen debt and which pass through the economy to overseas bankers. EEC ‘integration’ is in fact a great suction pump which depresses the economy and living standards in order to extract wealth for overseas bondholders.
No capitalist or politician of the old order provides any redeeming argument. In the past they plundered the economy; in the present they extract and transfer wealth abroad; and for the future they can only promise more of the same.
The basic challenge is not the abysmal conditions of the present but the opportunity that exists for a fundamental transformation. The problem is fashioning a transition from an unmitigated disaster to an equitable, dynamic and participatory economy. The problem facing a transition is the flawed structural and behavioral features of contemporary Greek society, polity and economy. Greece is deeply embedded with the legacy of a culture of pervasive state-party corruption and kleptocracy and bloated expenditures for the military and cliental bureaucracies. Most important, Greece is dominated by rent-seeking economic elites who pretend to be capitalists, but profit from state and overseas handouts from the Eurozone bankers and states.
To effect a transition requires that we first face the negative legacy of the past an order to see what proposals are viable and necessary.
The Negative Legacy and Debt Default: Greece is not Argentina
Many radical critics of the ‘austerity’ and debt crises in Greece cite the “Argentine example” of debt default (over $100 billion dollars) and its ability to fashion a successful recovery and growth model based on ‘self-financing.’ The critical advocates ignore the profound differences in the economic and social structures of the two countries as well as their respective locations in the regional economies.
Argentina, at the bottom of its crises, was actually in a worse situation than Greece today. Unemployment hovered between 25%-30% and over 50% in many working class districts, compared to 24% in Greece. Poverty levels in Argentina exceeded 45%; in Greece they exceed 35%. The depression in Argentina led to a negative growth rate of approximately 20% over the 3 year duration, equal to the loss in Greece over the past 5 years.
Despite starting from a more difficult and worse situation, Argentina had several strategic advantages.
In the first place, in Argentina the ouster from power of the crises driven ruling elite was affected by a mass popular uprising (December 2001-January 2002). In Greece, while mass demonstrations have certainly politicized, mobilized and radicalized a part of the electorate, the radical coalition vying for power (SYRIZA), has taken the electoral route. Secondly, the Argentine upheaval was a continuous process as mass unemployed picketers (piqueteros) blocked roads and transport as a negotiating tool to ensure that resources were transferred from debt payments to unemployed workers’ family allowances and in reviving the economy. In Greece the vast army of unemployed has neither the organized capacity to sustain constant transport blockage nor can they count on neighborhood and trade union organizations for anything more than repeated one day work stoppages and marches.
Argentina immediately drastically devaluated its currency – eliminating the dollar peg – from one to one, to three to one and vastly increased the competitiveness of Argentine export products. The center-left regime encouraged the substitution of local products for costly imports. Argentina, unlike Greece was not part of a currency union and could set its own currency rate. Greece is bound to the euro and will have to convert to the drachma in order to take control over its finances, currency rate, and monetary and investment policy tools.
Argentina possessed a substantial industrial-manufacturing sector, idled by the crises, but with the worker-engineering-management capacity to respond to a new stimulus program. In addition, Argentina had a dynamic highly competitive agro-business sector, a world leader in beef, grains and soya, as well as energy (oil) and mineral wealth, which the center-left regime could activate.
Greece, during its 30 year membership in the European Union actually saw its meager and backward manufacturing and agricultural base shrink, in the face of cheap and better imports from developed capitalist countries like Germany, France, Holland and elsewhere. Unlike Argentina, Greece received billions of dollars in “transfers,” compensation funds to upgrade its economy and competitiveness and prepare it for full integration (lowering of tariff barriers). However, the “transfers” were not channeled into productive activity either by the two ruling parties or by the ‘capitalists’ and ‘farmers.’ The ruling parties used the transfers to build extensive electoral patronage machines; they squandered funds for overpriced state contracts to provide builders engaged in non-productive building projects (including the multi-billion dollar swindle around the Olympic Games). Tens of thousands of unemployed graduates and party loyalists bloated the national, regional and local bureaucracy, increasing consumption, blocking any meaningful productive activity.
Capitalists designed “productive projects and then transferred EU loans and handouts to local and overseas real estate investments and luxury purchases. The Greek elite transferred loans to London, Swiss and Cypriot bank accounts – while the government signed off as ultimate guarantor.
In the agriculture sector, many property holders were doctors, dentists, lawyers and high officials who used the ownership of a few dozen olive or orange trees to receive low interest loans, import tax-free luxury 4 x 4 vehicles and to build second or third vacation houses. Many farmers who received loans and grants, purchased land for homes for their married children or for extra room to rent to tourists or to send their sons and daughters to overseas universities.
Most important, the economic elite – bankers, ship owners, construction-real estate – politicians, speculators skimmed off billions from the EEC transfers in the form of illicit loans to cronies and in the form of fees, management charges for credit dealings and pension funding.
The European bankers, government officials and exporters were acutely aware that the “transfers” were being pillaged – but they went along, for obvious reasons of economic and political gain: lucrative interest payments flowed into their coffers; exporters took over Greek consumer markets; bankers and investment houses found willing pension fund managers ‘open’ to dubious investments. Even tourists enjoyed the sun and imports which reminded them of home: wiener schnitzel, English ale, Dutch feta. Moreover, Greece spent 15% of its budget on the military, serving NATO goals and bases.
Contrary to superficial appearances, Greece was not ruled by capitalists, small business people and farmers as some political scientists claim. Greece was ruled by an extensive class of kleptocrats, tax evaders and rentiers who pillaged, borrowed, consumed and invested overseas. Technologically Greece was among the most backward agro-manufacturing countries. Its overseas trained and educated professionals, returned and ‘adapted’ to the kleptocratic-rentier culture: most held several positions in public-private activities, guaranteeing a mediocre performance and conflicts of interests.
In summary, Greece is not Argentina. A Greek default is an absolute necessity to begin the process of transition toward a productive and equitable economy. But the horrendous Greek legacy raises a whole series of new problems and challenges with few economic resources and in the absence of leading productive classes.
The Difficult Road Out of Crises
Any road map out of the Greek crises will be difficult, complex, and arduous – given the “scorched earth” economy which a left government (LG) will inherit. The first and most basic concern of a LG is to end the policies and especially the agreements with the “Troika” that demand further mass firings of public employees, the reduction in social services, the cuts in minimum wages and pensions. A new LG needs to impose a series of emergency measures to avoid economic bankruptcy.
It is absolutely clear that European bankers and regimes want to punish Greece for transgressions of their “austerity pact.” If Greece should succeed in renouncing the austerity pact, the Euro bankers fear that other countries – Spain, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus and Ireland might follow suite.
Greece should suspend debt payments, impose tight capital controls and freeze bank deposits to avoid capital flight, in the face of the Troika cut-off of funding. The LG should convoke a series of emergency commissions to (1) secure alternative sources of emergency financing from several reserve funds with Euro holdings. They must seek loans from Russia, Iran, Venezuela, China and other states not beholden to the Troika and (2) make an inventory of available and potential productive enterprises – bankrupt or troubled firms, indebted enterprises – and convert them into state sponsored worker-employee operated co-operatives (3) investigate public debt to determine what can be classified as ‘legitimate’(loans channeled into productive employment) or illegitimate (loans that enriched speculators, corrupt contractors, political leaders) (4) investigate and attach overseas holdings of wealthy Greeks who were engaged in multi-year multi-million tax evasion and who accumulated illicit income via unpaid loans and money laundering. Greek auditors should proceed to demand that Eurozone creditors should collect debt payments from the bank accounts of wealth Greeks who laundered and deposited in London, Zurich, Frankfurt, New York and elsewhere.
The principle of the LG should be “those who borrowed the loans and profited, should pay them.” The European bankers who lent to corrupt politicians and business kleptocrats must assume the loss, for failing to exercise “due diligence” – oversight into the viability of the activity they were financing. After all, private business ‘justifies’ its profits by the “risks” it takes. In the case of Greece, Euro-bankers’ demands that private bank loans and repayments be “guaranteed” by the state (no matter how badly they were managed) risk ‘moral hazard’: Guaranteeing bankers’ profits, irrespective of their ‘soundness,’ encourages a repetition of reckless speculation such as had transpired in Greece over the past 30 years.
The LG should repudiate illegal debts (the vast majority) and renegotiate and roll-over the rest over an extended time frame, pending an economic recovery.
What should be recognized is that past Greek governments (despite being formally elected) engaged in illegitimate activity which prejudiced the sovereignty, productive capacity, and livelihood of an entire people.
What is not acceptable is to force an entire people to sacrifice their lives because a minority of Greeks borrowed and didn’t invest or pay their debts to overseas creditors. Currently the kleptocratic millionaires are given “cover,” and their illicit multi-billion Euro bank accounts and real-estate holdings are protected by the banks demanding payments from the Greek government. Their current demands are based on a savage demolition of living standards for a whole people. For outstanding obligations, the Greek LG can transfer tax debts of Greek tax evaders to creditors, letting them attach the overseas accounts of their Greek clients.
The LG can self-finance a recovery by drastically changing budget priorities: mainly by slashing its military budgets. Greece’s military expenditures as a percentage of its total budget, is one of the highest in the European Union. By eliminating expenditures for NATO operations, overseas military expedition and numerous military bases, a LG can prioritize industrial and service investments.
Greece needs a (1) growth tax – a flat tax on the self-employed – professions, shop keepers, hotels, etc. – to ensure that they pay their share in financing the new economy. While the very rich engaged in mega swindles and evasions, it was also the case that the 50% self-employed sector imitated their behavior at the micro-level (2) a tourist tax – at airports, ferry-docks, tour ships stops – with tight oversight and or replacement of corrupt tax inspectors/collectors and customs officials who take a big cut of proceeds. Incarceration of corrupt officials should be mandatory. (3) A real estate tax which reflects the real value of land and property, especially of unused or uncultivated lands. (4) A tax on financial transactions and an end to tax exemptions for major banks, corporations and so-called property developers.
Exploiting Unused or Underutilized Human Resources
The new government has many sources of ‘human capital’ – hundreds of thousands of unemployed young educated people who can be mobilized for work in productive activity through selective public investments in priority areas, especially outside of the “greater Athens region.”
There are many regions and islands which have the potential to provide income and employment, properly addressed. One of the most salient is in food processing; one of the many perversities of the Greek economy is the production and exports of apples and citrus products to Germany and the import of juices. Another is the failure to link local food and manufacturing to the 14 million tourist sector. Most food and furniture is imported; most vacation packages benefit overseas multi-nationals and foreign transport agencies.As a result the Greek economy and labor force derives a small share of total income from its “leading sector.” Greece with 300 days of sun is ideal for solar energy development.
The New Economy Cannot be Built with Kleptocrats of the Past
As mentioned above, Greece had few if any real entrepreneurs, who invested their own profits, invested in research and development and modernized their plant.
Public sector enterprises were overloaded with the unemployed ‘party members,’ many virtually ‘no shows’; and many public sector unions engaged in nepotism and multiple-employment at the expense of efficient services, profitability and long-term development strategies. Public sector enterprises require a kind of re-nationalization, to generate revenues and income to finance new jobs in new enterprises. Management of public enterprises should be transferred from the hands of stagnant ‘life time job-holders’ to dynamic workers – entrepreneurial – engineering management teams looking to broaden the scope and quality of activity within the new economy.
Pension funds and other savings must be mobilized alongside the billions retained by the state’s debt default to pay current expenses (pensions, salaries, basic imports etc.), to stimulate the revival of production among enterprises which show a willingness to rebuild the economy and which show a willingness to collaborate in activating production and employment. Public profits should finance worker takeovers of factories and services abandoned by their previous owners, of which there are thousands.
The public sector must take the lead in investing, servicing and producing to create “confidence” among the small and medium size producers. The public sector must take the lead in negotiating with potential lenders and economic partners outside the Eurozone: new markets and financial arrangements will be necessary if the Eurozone cuts off all funding as a consequence of debt default or a moratorium.
The danger is that SYRIZA follows through on the default and has no alternative emergency plan in place to respond to a Eurozone cut-off. In the face of an EU/IMF offensive and lacking an alternative, a sector of SYRIZA (ex. PASOK public sector unionists) may back-track and seek to accept some form of “renegotiated” pact … which would divide and undermine the prospects for a truly viable and radical transformation and condemn Greece to its catastrophic downward spiral.
Conclusion
SYRIZA has been raised to a serious contender for state power by the most devastating capitalist crises to affect a Western European country since WWII. It gained adherence through its dynamic grass roots organizing and the relative cohesion of its disparate components. It’s clear and forthright exposé of the corruption and pillage of the dominant parties and its image as a party with ‘clean hands’ has propelled it forward among a broad spectrum of classes, regions and generational groups. However, the very depth of the crises, the total pillage and emptying of the treasury by the kleptocratic political-business class and the dismantling of the entire productive sector and the transfer of billions of Euros abroad by the millionaire rentier class, has created an immensely difficult terrain from which to launch the necessary transformation. The new government can and must guarantee the sovereignty of the nation by rejecting imperial dictates and end any further degradation (“austerity”) of the Greek people. Emancipation requires that first and foremost the new leadership takes the lead in making sacrifices: cutting out all the perks of office, salaries and overseas commitments. The new social priorities demand severe cuts in military budgets – bases, NATO, arms purchases. The new leaders must tell the Euro-bankers to collect payments from the accounts of the overseas billionaires who borrowed, bled the country and are now sheltered in the same banks.
The Left must move from criticism to practical deeds; from theorizing to creating jobs! Greece with a new government can put an end to open-ended austerity and decay. It can and must change its place in the international economy. In the final analysis, it is Greece’s last best hope.
James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books).

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Let the People of Greece decide

Let the People of Greece decide. 47339.jpeg 
The people of Greece have managed to keep their language and culture intact over the last few thousand years despite constant attacks by foreign powers. They have successfully repelled attempts at domination by Latins, by Turks, by Venetians, by Macedonians, by Genovese. And they preserved the Hellenistic way of being.
The Greek way of doing things is not the German way of doing things; Greek salaries are not German salaries; yet the European Union understands that it is fair to impose German convergence rates on the Greek economy, German constraints and German checks and balances on an economy formed over thousands of years, in Southern Europe, far away from the events taking place in Germany over the years.
Then when alien impositions are visited upon Greece and the Greek people, without anyone having asked them if they wanted them, the Greek government signs an austerity package with a delighted José Barroso and an ecstatic Brussels and an enchanted Berlin, stretching Greek society to the limit. Did anyone ask the people of Greece?
No, they did not. Did they ask the people of Ireland? Portugal? Spain? No, the European Union was imposed in an arrogant and anti-democratic top-down attitude, by stealth, cynically, imposing Maastricht and then Nice and then Lisbon, stitching up a monster before our very eyes…and when anyone dared to say no the reaction was an annoyed sigh, then a repetition of the vote under a manipulation of words ad nauseamuntil the YES vote won the day, often with the support of a fraction of the population.
This is not democracy, this is not the Greek way of doing things. So now, once again, the people of Greece have the chance to be a beacon of light for the rest of Europe and the choice is crystal clear: kowtow to the orders of Brussels, Barroso and Berlin (Barroso had arrogantly stated some weeks ago that the path of austerity is not to be negotiated, or words to that effect. What he said was the following: “The programme countries, they have no alternative – except disorderly default, which I think is not an alternative – than to pursue courageous fiscal consolidation measures. Growth and consolidation, we need both.”)
For “Courageous measures” read “inhuman and inhumane draconian austerity measures which tear society apart, but which the political class, and the professional politicians who have created the European Union to create another echelon of jobs for the boys, have never felt because rarely have any of them ever done a day’s work in their entire lives”.
What choice do the Greek people really have? If they vote for the parties favouring the austerity measures, then they are selling the jobs of their children and grandchildren down the line because the Greek economy will shrink so much that the labour market will not recover and austerity will be an endemic part of the Greek reality for decades to come, or else they vote for the anti-austerity parties such as Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza, which will give the Greeks control over their destiny, not Brussels, not Barroso and not Berlin.
They try to scare the Greek people into masochism, choosing the Euro path over any other because the professional politicians see for the first time in years their pathetic Fascist little pipe dream going up in smoke. Nobody wants the European Union, nobody asked for the Euro and nobody likes the austerity measures imposed on them as the Euro was imposed and as this stupid Union was imposed, to create jobs and sales for Germany.
If that was not the original plan, it is what the plan has become.
Going back to the Drachma (“handful”) is going back to Greek solutions for Greek problems, Greek measures imposed by Greeks for Greeks. True, the path ahead is complex, but it will be the Greek Institutions deciding, not the German ones, not Brussels and not Barroso. And the path need not be any more difficult than the policymakers wish to make it. Let’s be honest: how much worse could it get anyway? At least by rejecting the Euro, there is some hope.
Outside the Union, Greece is totally free to negotiate its own bilateral agreements. Inside, it is not.
There are things that can be done, there is something called social convergence and there is nothing that good planning and patriotic endeavour cannot surpass. People of Greece, have courage, remember your culture and history, defend it and show us the way!
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

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The political issues in the Greek elections

By Chris Marsden and Julie Hyland 
16 June 2012
Sunday’s general election in Greece is uniformly portrayed as a defining moment in which the Greek people will have the chance to determine not only the future of their own country, but the course of Europe. But as far as Europe’s ruling elite is concerned, Greece’s fate has already been determined.
Whoever wins the election, the working class will be forced to repay the €200 billion-plus bailout through the austerity measures attached to the Memorandum signed with the troika—the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This will inevitably be followed by calls for additional sacrifice, whether or not Greece is allowed to remain in the euro zone.
German chancellor Angela Merkel chose the eve of the Greek election to bluntly declare that “Germany’s resources are not unlimited” and rule out all proposals that Frankfurt foot the bill for euro bonds and ECB debt guarantees. Her statements were directed against France, Britain and the US. But whatever their disagreements, on Greece they are unanimous.
There are numerous reports of detailed plans drawn up by the EU and central banks around the world in anticipation of a Greek exit from the euro. The €100 billion bailout for Spain only last weekend was widely understood as an attempt to create a firewall to prevent financial contagion spreading from a meltdown of the Greek economy.
British chancellor George Osborne said this week that a Greek exit could be the price necessary to persuade Germany to “save” the euro. Reinforcement for Osborne’s claim can be found in the ongoing run on Greece’s banks, which has led to a decline in deposits of up to 50 percent, with €500 million being withdrawn every day. Ex-Lehman Brothers banker Michael Tory was even more explicit than Osborne, declaring that a Greek exit from the euro could be just the “Lehman moment” Europe required to shock it into action.
The Lehman reference makes clear that this is a demand by international finance that yet more money be handed over to the banks, to be paid for through even deeper and more savage cuts.
The offer of some temporary concessions is not excluded as part of the effort at crisis management. But Greece’s downward spiral will continue.
Every day, the crisis throughout Europe escalates, and every measure taken to deal with it proves ineffective. Already, the focus of the speculators has moved on from Greece. The impact of Spain’s rescue was short-lived. Its borrowing rate has now soared above the unsustainable 7 percent benchmark. Italy is now widely spoken of as the next candidate for action by the troika.
The trail of devastation resulting from the predatory demands of the banks and speculators is nowhere more apparent than in Greece. After five years of austerity, its gross domestic product is estimated to have collapsed by 27 percent—unprecedented in peacetime.
A quarter of workers and half of all young people are officially unemployed. Millions more are on short-time contracts, earning as little as €300 a month. Wages have been cut by up to 50 percent, while social services are in a state of collapse. Starvation, homelessness and suicides are the subject of innumerable heart-rending news stories.
In the face of this terrible fate, no party in Greece genuinely speaks for the interests of working people.
New Democracy and PASOK are the direct accomplices in the ruination of their own people. Their election campaign translates the demands of the troika into the injunction: Do as you are told, or face social Armageddon!
Those seeking an alternative in SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) will find none. The coalition and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, rail against the injustices suffered under the Memorandum. However, SYRIZA’s stated intention is to do whatever is necessary to maintain Greece’s position in the EU and the euro zone. To this end, SYRIZA, proposes only a more protracted repayment of Greece’s debt, coupled with efforts to increase revenues through more effective taxation. It hopes to persuade Europe’s leading powers that this is a more attractive option than forcing Greece’s immediate collapse.
Along this road there is no way out.
What unites all the parties is their insistence that workers and youth place their hopes on reaching a compromise with one or another section of the bourgeoisie. They are assisted in this by the trade unions, which have closed down any and all struggle against the austerity dictated by the troika.
Everything now depends on the independent intervention of the working class into political life.
Workers and youth in Greece are facing the full impact of a global failure of capitalism. Whatever the specific features of Greece’s crisis and that of the European Union and the euro, what is fundamental is that the continued existence of the profit system is incompatible with the essential needs of the broad mass of humanity. This is as true in the United States, Russia, Japan, India and China as it is in Europe.
Greece is the victim of a social counterrevolution that is being implemented by the ruling elite and which they intend to roll out across Europe. Cuts totaling hundreds upon hundreds of billions of euros have already been made across the continent. In Greece, the ruling class is testing out just how far it can go.
Along this course, a decisive conflict between the ruling elite and the working class is inevitable. There is open discussion of social unrest in Greece escalating to the point where the military is called in. Plans for a Greek exit from the euro include closing the country’s borders, and military manoeuvres have already been staged in preparation for civil unrest.
Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung summed up the mood in ruling circles when it posed the need for Europe to dispatch troops to Greece should it become a “failing state”. If “Athens should no longer be able to pay its officials or pay only in drachmas,” the situation would become “chaotic,” with Greece “rocked by rebellions”, it wrote last month.
Noting the recent extension of the deployment of EU troops at the Greek/Turkish border, it concluded, “Hopefully, an international protection force, such as is stationed in the teetering countries to the north, will not become an option.”
The Greek working class cannot base its political actions on either the false hopes promoted by SYRIZA or the fears whipped up by New Democracy and PASOK. They must look reality squarely in the face.
The same holds true for all of Europe’s workers, who must be as resolute in defending their Greek brothers and sisters as the ruling elite is in its determination to impoverish them.
Solidarity with Greece’s workers must be the focus of a political movement of the entire European working class against the predatory governments in Berlin, Paris, London, etc. The bosses’ European Union must be overthrown and replaced by workers’ governments organised within a United Socialist States of Europe.
To this end, independent organs of struggle must be forged in every workplace and neighbourhood. What is required above all is a genuinely socialist leadership developed through the construction of sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International.
The authors also recommend:
[14 June 2012]

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The euro crisis and the role of SYRIZA

8 June 2012

The crisis of the European Union (EU) and its common currency has brought to the fore the necessity of an independent movement of the working class against the EU and the capitalist system which it upholds. The experiences in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland of the past two years, where workers have repeatedly carried out mass protests and strikes against austerity measures, show the falsity of claims that mass pressure from below can shift the policies of the EU and the ruling elites of Europe.
The austerity policies spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy have impoverished broad layers of the population in Greece and other highly indebted countries of southern Europe, while only intensifying the debt and banking crisis. Greece, mired in recession for the fifth consecutive year, has seen its debt rise from $250 billion in 2008 to more than $350 billion today.
Proposals by US President Barack Obama and newly elected French President François Hollande to modify European austerity policies by increasing the size of bank bailouts offer nothing to the working class. The schemes being floated in increasingly desperate negotiations between the major European powers all include demands for further budget cuts and new attacks on workers’ social rights.
The crisis has exposed the bankruptcy of the financial elites that govern Europe and the failure of the capitalist system. The only social force that can provide a progressive answer to the euro crisis is the working class. Its industrial and social strength must be mobilized in an international struggle against the European Union and its constituent bourgeois governments, based on a fight for the establishment of workers’ power, the overthrow of capitalism, and the development of socialism throughout Europe and internationally.

The petty-bourgeois “left” forces that seek to subordinate workers to one or other camp of the ruling class constitute a critical obstacle to the development of a mass independent movement of the working class. Currently, the chief representative of these forces in Europe is Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and its leader, Alexis Tsipras.
According to opinion polls, SYRIZA could emerge as the strongest party in the June 17 elections and Tsipras could become prime minister, as voters seek an alternative to the previous governing parties that have imposed the austerity measures dictated by the EU. SYRIZA is rising in the polls due its talk of rejecting Greece’s credit arrangements with the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund and freezing the austerity measures.
SYRIZA is not a revolutionary party. It is a petty-bourgeois party whose policies are hostile to the independent political mobilization of the working class.
It seeks to contain the anger over social attacks while keeping workers’ struggles under the domination of the trade union bureaucracy, which worked closely with Greece’s previous governments as they carried out devastating attacks on the workers. It functions as a tool to subordinate the working class to the Greek ruling class, the European institutions and capitalism.
When he speaks to the international press, as opposed to the Greek electorate, Tsipras makes clear that his party, once in power, would do what is necessary to satisfy the financial markets. SYRIZA hopes to carry out a program combining bailouts to key banks and corporations with austerity measures against the working class.
Tsipras has repeatedly said that SYRIZA seeks above all to remain in the EU. It will not only agree to structural “reforms”—which have already slashed wages and wiped out tens of thousands of jobs—but also honor the country’s debts, which the EU has used as a lever for the last two years to impose the austerity measures.
In an interview with Der Spiegel, Tsipras called Hollande a “source of hope” and supported the French president’s proposals for more money-printing by the European Central Bank and the introduction of euro bonds. He has repeatedly praised the policies of Obama, calling on European leaders to adopt policies along the lines of the Depression-era New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt.
Such fatuous comparisons serve only to foster illusions about the possibility of resolving the Greek crisis by tinkering with EU policy. Obama has carried out brutal attacks on jobs and wages in the US and rejected any reform policies to alleviate the suffering resulting from mass unemployment and budget cuts. The vast decay of American capitalism is reflected in the absence of any social reform faction within the US political establishment. Greek capitalism lacks the resources to carry out the reform policies of an earlier era.
Amid an escalating capitalist crisis, bitter class struggles are on the agenda—in which petty-bourgeois parties like SYRIZA will face the working class not as an ally, but as a bitter enemy.
Tsipras himself has admitted that SYRIZA is in secret talks with top officials to prepare emergency measures in the event that the EU expels Greece from the euro zone, though he refuses to say what they are. Last week he met with the Greek army command and called for the strengthening of the armed forces.
The principal danger is that parties such as SYRIZA and the social layers they represent in the affluent middle class and the state and trade union bureaucracies will disorganize and block working class struggles against the rising dangers of economic collapse and dictatorship.
This underscores the need for a systematic political struggle against these pseudo-left tendencies. The workers cannot take a step forward without a political struggle against them, based on an independent socialist program.
The working class faces the task of building a new revolutionary party in Greece and throughout Europe, uniting the working class in a fight against the EU institutions and for the United Socialist States of Europe. This party is the International Committee of the Fourth International.
Christoph Dreier

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Greece: SYRIZA presents its economic programme

By Christoph Dreier 

2 June 2012
Yesterday afternoon Alexis Tsipras presented the economic programme of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) for the upcoming June 17 elections.
Tsipras promised, in the event of an election victory, to terminate the loan agreements with the European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund and reverse the social cuts imposed on Greece in recent years. “The first act of a government of the left, as soon as the new parliament is sworn in, will be a cancellation of the bailout and its implementation laws,” he said in Athens.
“There is no more or less bad memorandum,” he said, referring to the bailout agreement. “You either implement the memorandum, or you cancel it …. We want to cancel it.”
“Let people know that there is still democracy in Greece,” he added.
The national plan, which Tsipras then presented, calls for the withdrawal of the major social attacks of recent years, such as cuts to the minimum wage or higher taxes for the masses. It also calls for the privatization of state enterprises to be halted and some privatizations reversed. Cuts to pensions and wages are simply to be frozen. Moreover, banks that take state aid should be nationalized.
Such demands are aimed at deep social anger among Greek workers, who in recent years have suffered wage cuts of up to 60 percent and have lost their jobs by the thousands.
Tsipras claimed SYRIZA would adopt a wealth tax and introduce a register of fortunes in which every Greek must record their property. At the same time, SYRIZA seeks to encourage foreign investment—by investors who would certainly object to any effort to investigate and tax the rich.
In the elections on May 6, an overwhelming majority of the electorate voted for parties that had criticized the EU’s austerity measures. SYRIZA quadrupled its share of the vote, to 17 percent. In the election on June 17 there is a possibility that it will emerge as the strongest party and may form the government.

Tsipras is making promises that his party will be unable to keep, should it come to power, because its orientation is to the ruling parties, not to the working class.
On Friday, Tsipras said nothing about how he would enforce his promises as prime minister against the dictates of the EU and European governments. His strategy is based on threatening the EU with a possible Greek state bankruptcy to obtain concessions. And yet, he constantly stresses that SYRIZA accepts the EU and will do everything to stay in the euro zone.
At the launch of the party programme, Tsipras underlined that his party would not terminate debt arrangements unilaterally, but would only suspend the interest payments and negotiate a debt cut. This should ensure that the debt could be repaid later.
EU representatives have made ​​it abundantly clear that they will not accept any renegotiation of credit agreements and would push Greece into bankruptcy in the event of non-compliance.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, French President François Hollande, and IMF head Christine Lagarde, have all emphasized that they categorically oppose new negotiations on the memorandum.
Instead, arrangements are being made to exclude Greece from the euro zone. Finally, the Euro- group instructed its members to consider all the scenarios that might follow a withdrawal of Greece, and prepare for them. The large European banks are also taking precautions.
In the past two years, the European elite has proven that it is prepared to implement the most brutal attacks on the working class to bail out the banks and supply them with fresh capital. Under these conditions, the demands raised by SYRIZA can only be implemented by mobilizing the European working class against the EU institutions on the basis of a socialist perspective. But SYRIZA rejects such a perspective.
Should Tsipras end up in government, he would forget his programme as soon as he sits down with representatives of the European Union at the negotiating table. In 1981, French President François Mitterrand needed eighteen months before he dropped his campaign promises under the onslaught of the financial markets on the French currency, and did a complete U-turn. Tsipras would only take one and a half weeks.
Immediately after Tsipras’ speech, SYRIZA’s economic policy spokesperson, George Stathakis, said that the party would accept all foreign debts: “We are willing to make any agreement, any compromise, as long as it is viable.”
On his visits to Paris and Berlin, Tsipras told a number of European and American newspapers that he did not seek any confrontation with the EU. He said that under his government, Greece would recognize its debts and merely seek to renegotiate its credit agreements.
He also offered to continue “long-term reforms,” which have led to mass layoffs and pay cuts in Greece. As models for his policies, he cited US President Barack Obama, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and Hollande.
European leaders, including Hollande, show little inclination so far to respond to Tsipras’ offers of a compromise. They are demanding his unconditional surrender and threatening to plunge the country into financial ruin. For this eventuality, the use of the army to suppress social unrest is already under discussion. Tsipras’ efforts to foster illusions in the EU only serve to disarm the working class against these dangers.

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IMF chief: It’s “payback time” for Greek workers

By Stefan Steinberg 

28 May 2012
In an interview with the British Guardian newspaper published Friday, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, vented her class hatred for the workers of Greece, denouncing them as tax scofflaws and ruling out any respite from the austerity measures that have devastated the country.
In the interview, Lagarde was questioned about the social catastrophe resulting from five years of economic crisis and austerity measures dictated by the IMF and the European Union. She was asked, in particular, to respond to the plight of pregnant women who “won’t have access to a midwife when they give birth,” patients who “won’t get life-saving drugs,” and the elderly who “will die alone for lack of care.”
Contemptuously dismissing the suffering and death caused by the policies she is helping to impose, Lagarde replied: “I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day… I have them in my mind all the time, because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens.”
The crocodile tears of Lagarde, formerly the finance minister under French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for the impoverished children of Africa carry little weight given the quasi-genocidal record of French imperialism in Africa and the neo-colonial interventions in the Ivory Coast, Libya and other parts of the continent carried out by the Sarkozy regime.
The IMF head continued: “As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about … all these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax.”
Asked whether she thought more about non-payment of taxes than “all those now struggling to survive without jobs or public services,” Lagarde replied, “I think of them equally. And I think they should also help themselves collectively … by all paying their tax.”
The Guardian article continued: “It sounds as if she’s essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europe, you’ve had a nice time and now it’s payback time. ‘That’s right.’ She nods calmly.”

Lagarde, who makes more than half a million dollars after taxes as IMF chief, reflects the outlook of the financial aristocracy that dictates policy in Europe and around the world. In condemning the people of Greece to unspeakable suffering and misery, she speaks for the entire European bourgeoisie and all of its national governments and European Union institutions.
Her “Let them eat cake” attitude sums up the loathing and fear of her class for the working class throughout Europe and internationally. Her remarks underscore the fact that Greece has been selected to serve as a benchmark for a deliberate policy of exploiting the capitalist crisis to effect a fundamental and permanent restructuring of class relations. The bourgeoisie is determined to eradicate all of the past social gains of the working class and carry through a social counterrevolution, imposing conditions of poverty and exploitation not seen since the end of the 19th century.
Following the defeat of Sarkozy and election of Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande in the May 6 French presidential election, a host of media commentaries predicted the “tide was turning against austerity in Europe” in favor of a “growth” strategy. Illusions in the new French government were encouraged, in particular, by politicians such as Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in Greece, who maintained that Hollande would serve as a counterweight to Germany, leading to a softening of the austerity policies prescribed by Berlin and approved by Brussels.
Recent events have demonstrated the worthlessness of such claims. Just days after the French presidential election, the new French economics minister, Pierre Moscovici, gave an interview to the Financial Times to reassure the financial markets that Hollande was a “supply side” politician and by no means a “Keynesian,” i.e., that he could be relied on to support the austerity policy demanded by the banks.
One day before the EU summit held May 23 to discuss the European crisis, Hollande met with PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who, as finance minister in the PASOK government of George Papandreou, played the central role in implementing IMF and EU austerity policies. The meeting was said to have been warm and friendly.
On the day of the EU summit, the Financial Times Deutschland made clear that the talk of “growth” by the Hollande camp was primarily for the sake of electoral politics. The newspaper wrote: “Parliamentary elections are scheduled for mid-June in France, meaning it is still too early for the president (Hollande) to go back on his campaign positions.”
Revealing the priorities behind the “growth” agenda promised by Hollande, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called last weekend for changes to permit the European Central Bank to lend money directly to countries in crisis. The proposal is fiercely opposed by Germany but supported by the financial markets and the Spanish prime minister, who has urgently requested fresh injections of capital for his country’s ailing banks. On Friday, the directors of Spain’s Bankia asked the government for an additional €19 billion ($23.8 billion) in financial support.
While the French government is positioning itself to rapidly back down on its election promises, the German government and banks are preparing a fresh offensive against Greece.
A week ago, Germany’s biggest bank, Deutsche Bank, announced it was discussing plans for a so-called “geuro”—a special currency for Greece. According to Deutsche Bank chief economist Thomas Mayer, the geuro would allow Greece to devalue its own new currency, thereby allowing it to immediately cut real wages and buy time for further government “reforms.” In a separate speech, the newly appointed CEO of the bank, Jürgen Fitschen, described Greece as “a failed state … a corrupt state.”
The German Bundesbank also entered into the fray over the future of Greece and issued a report last week declaring that an exit by Greece from the euro would be “manageable.” It has now been confirmed that both the Bundesbank and the European Central Bank are drawing up contingency plans for a Greek euro exit—a move that would precipitate a run on the banks and drastic inflation, with immediate and devastating consequences for the Greek population.
The German government has floated proposals for the “restructuring” of the economy of Greece and other ailing European economies. According to a report in Der Spiegel, the plan calls for a variation of the “shock therapy” introduced by the West German government following the collapse of Stalinist East Germany (German Democratic Republic—GDR).
The German six-point plan includes more far-reaching privatizations, the wholesale elimination of business regulations, labor market “reforms” to make it easier to fire workers, and lower corporate tax rates. The plan also calls for the setting up of economic zones and creation of privatization agencies similar to those that devastated the industries of the former GDR and condemned broad regions of eastern Germany to high unemployment and poverty.
A principal aim of the plan is to establish across Europe the type of huge low-wage sector that now exists in Germany. The main opposition party in Germany, the Social Democratic Party, has signaled its support for the plan.
While there are significant differences between the major capitalist powers across the Atlantic and within Europe on how best to rescue the banks, there is unanimity within the bourgeois elite that the full cost of the crisis must be paid by the working class.

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Greek ruling elite prepares for showdown with working class

By Robert Stevens and Chris Marsden 

26 May 2012
As Greece prepares for elections on June 17 amid an overwhelming popular rejection of austerity, the ruling class is making secret preparations for a military crackdown against the workers. These preparations are taking place in parallel with more public discussions within the European Union on financial mechanisms to penalize Greece, should the Greek population vote to reject EU austerity demands.
An article published Wednesday in the right-wing Greek daily Kathimerini,Euro Exit Scenario Gives Greece 46 Hours to Manage Process,” lays out a “synthesis of euro-exit scenarios from 21 economists, analysts and academics.” The newspaper writes that the introduction of a new Greek currency would need to be meticulously planned and carried out within a 46-hour window, over a weekend, in consideration of global stock market trading schedules.
There would be immediate moves to repress social opposition. The article states: “Over the two days, leaders would have to calm civil unrest while managing a potential sovereign default, planning a new currency, recapitalizing the banks, stemming the outflow of capital and seeking a way to pay bills once the bailout lifeline is cut.”
Citing two senior researchers, the article notes that “the country may deploy its military as soon as early morning Saturday and close its borders, preparing to stamp euros as drachma as an interim solution once a public announcement has been made.”
Greece’s outgoing finance minister, Filippos Sachinidis, said of an exit from the euro, “All our achievements will be wiped out and it will happen in such a violent way, I don’t know if we will be able to continue functioning as a modern democracy.”
In these comments there is an undoubted element of political blackmail. The ruling elite declares that the workers must accept every cut demanded by finance capital and the Greek state or face an apocalypse. Should the workers refuse, they warn, the banks will cut off credit to Greece, forcing it to print its own money. Overnight, the markets will financially ruin the country by speculating against the new currency. At this point, the army will be deployed to halt bank runs by depositors and crush social opposition.
The political establishment hopes by publicizing such arguments to secure a vote for Greece’s traditional ruling parties, the right-wing New Democracy (ND) and the social democratic PASOK, which support the EU austerity measures and so-called “bailouts.” In the May 6 elections, these two parties together won only 32 percent of the vote.
More fundamentally, however, the “contingencies” being discussed and planned, both openly and secretly, reflect the acute intensification of class antagonisms in Greece and internationally.
What has been imposed in Greece, under the diktat of the “troika”—the European Union, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—is barbarity on a scale unseen since the Nazi occupation. An official at Greece’s official statistics bureau said last week: “By the close of 2012, we estimate the economy will have shrunk by a total of 27 percent since the start of the recession five years ago… That’s almost a third. It’s completely unprecedented for an advanced Western economy.”
Whether finance capital tries to continue its failed euro bailout or decides to speculate against a national Greek currency, the enforcement through the existing parliamentary mechanisms of such brutal and unpopular social attacks will grow increasingly difficult. Hence the growing threat of a recourse to some form of military-police rule. The Greek people have already had a bitter experience with such methods in the form of the 1967-1974 military junta.
Since the eruption of the financial crisis in 2008, the Greek ruling class has repeatedly relied on the army to suppress working class opposition. The army was mobilized to smash the 2010 truckers’ strike and was poised to intervene against the 2011 refuse workers’ strike.
On February 4, 2011, the Athens News Agency reported that the army’s 71st Airborne Brigade had staged an exercise involving a mock confrontation with anti-austerity protesters. In September that year, thousands of retired army officers protested and hundreds stormed the defence ministry, calling for the overthrow of the PASOK government. The Association of Support and Cooperation of the State Armed Forces warned then-Prime Minister George Papandreou that the army was following his policies “with increased concern.”
Then-Defence Minister Panos Beglitis declared, “Such bullying and anti-democratic behaviour that goes against the democratic government of the country is an insult that will be immediately repressed.” On November 1, shortly before Papandreou resigned, Beglitis sacked the entire general staff of the armed forces, leading to suspicion that a coup had been narrowly averted.
Ten days ago, with no party able to form a government following the May 6 general election, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, having himself been installed without an election, handed over power to a caretaker government under senior judge Panayiotis Pikrammenos. The character of this interim government is instructive.
Frangos Frangoulis, a retired general and ex-chief of staff of the armed forces, was appointed defence minister. Frangoulis, a former Marine commander, was removed from his position as armed forces chief of staff in Beglitis’s surprise reshuffle in November 2011.
Named as minister of citizen protection was Eleftherios Economou, a former chief of police with a long history in the state intelligence services. In addition to running the Hellenic Police, he will oversee the Secretariat for Civil Defence, the National Intelligence Service, the Hellenic Fire Service, the Hellenic Coast Guard and the Greek Agrarian Police.
One of the last acts of the Papandreou government in October 2011 was to appoint Economou to the post of general secretary for public order. He was made deputy minister for citizen protection by the Papademos regime and has now been promoted to his current role.
There are also numerous reports of close connections between the police and the fascist Golden Dawn, which garnered 7 percent of the vote in the May 6 election. The Guardian on May 3 wrote of Golden Dawn members being allowed to “terrorise, insult and attack their perceived enemies, often with members of the police looking the other way or, even worse, collaborating with them…”
An analysis of Golden Dawn’s vote by To Vima calculated that more than half of all police officers in Greece voted for the fascists.
A warning must be made in particular concerning an attack Thursday morning by some 30 police officers who attempted to break into the headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party (SEK) in Athens. They were reportedly joined by a “group of fascists… in shouting racist obscenities and attempting to kick down the front door.” The raid was called off only after the arrival of a senior police officer.
The greatest threat posed to workers in Greece is their lack of political preparation for the grave situation they face. SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) has thus far been the main beneficiary of anti-austerity sentiment among workers. But it is a bourgeois, not working class, party, despite its left rhetoric and criticisms of the terms of the EU bailout packages. Adamantly opposed to a revolutionary struggle against capitalism and the Greek state, it works to sow illusions and politically disarm the working class, promoting the myth that voting for its candidates in the June 17 general election will help persuade Europe’s politicians and bankers to give way.
Meanwhile, the ruling class in Greece and Europe is left to plan its own response to the growing anger and resistance of the working class and a vote against the austerity measures—the economic devastation of Greece and mass repression.

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The pseudo-left unmasked in Greece

24 May 2012

It has taken only a few days since the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) became the front-runner in Greece’s June 17 elections for the bankruptcy of its politics to become clear.
Millions of workers are expected to vote against Greece’s major parties, the social democratic PASOK and the right-wing New Democracy (ND), in order to register their opposition to the economic disaster created by the so-called bailouts these parties negotiated with the European Union (EU). Greece’s economy has shrunk by more than 20 percent since 2009, the greatest collapse since the Nazi occupation of the country during World War II.
Workers want to take back the wages and social services the EU has stolen from them and destroy the bankers’ dictatorship overseen by the “troika”—the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB).
SYRIZA has responded to this rising anger by criticizing EU austerity policies. In advance of his recent trip to Paris and Berlin, however, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras told politicians and journalists to pay no attention to these statements.
Stressing, in an interview with Reuters, that “what is being transmitted in Europe about us is not what we represent and want,” he pledged “long-term reforms.” On the basis of these reforms, Tsipras hopes to hold the EU and the euro together and guarantee the banks that “we’ll be able to pay back the money they gave us.”

Tsipras omitted the fact that the banks are to be repaid by massively lowering the living standards of the working class. His attempt to combine criticisms of austerity with support for the framework of the EU has rapidly proved to be untenable. His posturing as a “radical left” politician, thanks to which SYRIZA hopes to win 28 percent of the vote, did not even survive the time it took him to pack his bags for Berlin.
SYRIZA’s attempt to broker a better deal with the European ruling classes has collapsed into an effort to secure cosmetic changes in austerity measures to be imposed on the workers. In this, Tsipras represents layers of the Greek upper-middle class and bourgeoisie. He is appealing to sections of the European bourgeoisie, including newly-elected French President François Hollande, who prefer austerity policies as designed by the US rather than by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Tsipras praised Obama’s larger bank bailouts for making “recession less severe than in Europe.” He told the New York Times that he wants to “press Merkel to follow the example of America, where the debt crisis wasn’t tackled with austerity measures, but with an expansionist approach.”
What a fraud! While Washington has spent trillions on Wall Street bailouts and imperialist wars in the Middle East, the American working class has been bled white with social cuts. In the US as in Greece, access to health care and education is being slashed, millions are unemployed, and youth joblessness in major US cities like Washington, DC and Detroit equal the 50 percent level in Greece.
The working class faces a struggle not against one or another individual imperialist politician, but against a social order—capitalism—that has failed around the world.
In Europe, this is bound up with an international struggle to overthrow the European Union, a thieves’ kitchen in which imperialist politicians—of the right or, like Tsipras, of the bourgeois “left”—thrash out plans for attacks on the proletariat on a scale unseen since Hitler ruled Europe. Workers must reject any call for sacrifice for the sake of saving this reactionary institution.
In the coming class struggles, SYRIZA will confront the workers as an enemy. Its aim, whether in or out of power, is to contain popular opposition to austerity policies and maintain the political domination of finance capital over the working class. Should SYRIZA be allowed to take power by the Greek ruling class, in an attempt to head off the radicalization of the population, this will produce only further disappointments and defeats for the working class.
Many of SYRIZA’s international allies, like the German Left Party and the French Communist Party (PCF), have long records of carrying out social cuts in local or national governments. As for other parties applauding SYRIZA’s rise in the polls, like the New Anti-capitalist Party in France and the International Socialist Organization in the US, they too are drawn from affluent social layers hoping to benefit materially from their ties to governments attacking the workers.
The truth of these parties’ class basis and fraud of their left posturing will out. They are not socialist or revolutionary, or even reformist. Their policies offer not an improvement, but a retrogression in the living standards of the working class.
The only way for Greek workers to oppose the demands being placed on them is to appeal to the working class in Western Europe and beyond for a common struggle against the dictatorship of capital—that is, to adopt a revolutionary policy. The only viable perspective is the fight for socialism, through the seizure of state power and wresting of control of the economy from the hands of the capitalists.
Socialist-minded workers and youth must fight to break the influence of the pseudo-left parties and build a socialist leadership in the working class, based on the traditions of Trotskyism as defended by the International Committee of the Fourth International. The historic task of the coming struggles in Greece is the overthrow of the European Union and building of the United Socialist States of Europe as an integral part of the world socialist revolution.
Alex Lantier

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Greece: Show us how it’s done!

19.05.2012

 
Greece: Show us how it's done!. 47143.jpeg
Go on Greece! Show us how it’s done! You gave us political democracy, now show us what economic democracy means. The choice is nuclear: the Drachma (translation: “handful”) over the Euro (“empty hands”). After seeing what the European Union gave us, time for a radical, courageous change of policy. Who could argue otherwise? Here’s how it’s done.
The choice is nuclear: the Drachma (“Handful”) or the Euro (empty hands)? Before we get to the choice, let us all agree on one point: the European Union is paying the consequences of going too far, too fast, in an arrogant, top-down approach, implementing measures which were not fully understood by an over-zealous faddish army of Eurocrats (politicians who failed at home and have stubbornly produced what we see abroad). Now the Union is at a crossroads as a consequence of these failed policies. What to do?
The question right now is what Greece should do
Well, not exactly. First Greece, then the rest of the European South. Greece can show them how it is done before the entire castle built on the sand comes crashing down.
Well, after Greece they will see it is too painful and will do what they can to remain within the Eurozone and certainly, the Union
Not true. The process of leaving the Euro does not have to be painful and can be as easy or as difficult as the powers wish to make it. The second point is the fact that remaining inside the Eurozone causes more pain than any short-term consequences of leaving it.
But nobody knows what the consequences of leaving the Euro would be
That is also not true. You have to ignore the scare-mongering of those who are desperate to see their dear little pipe-dream going up in smoke, you have to ignore Barroso barking in Brussels about austerity. They do not understand the meaning of the word as they scuttle around in motorcades of limousines from breakfast to brunch to lunch. But in fact, the mechanism is perfectly simple. Let’s talk it through.
The legal framework
Talk what through? It is impossible for a country to leave the Eurozone or the EU without a calamity
Not true. The legal framework is set by Maastricht (1992) and Lisbon (2007). The former does not foresee an exit from the Eurozone without an exit from the EU and Article 50 of the latter sets out the terms for such an exit, namely that the State wishing to withdraw has to inform the European Council of its intention and the Council then produces, by qualified majority vote, the terms and conditions for the withdrawal. These can be as easy or as complicated as they wish to make them, basically, using goodwill or bad will.
But the mechanics of a withdrawal are impossible
No, they aren’t. The short-term scenario has a mechanical process and, obviously, consequences. It all boils down to governments using the G-word, Governing. Ideally the government of a State wishing to exit this club would start the process some four months in advance of the announcement, in a preparation period.
The first question is the transition phase to the new currency (NC) which could well have the same name as the old currency that the country used for decades. The exchange rate would have to be set upon withdrawal – no big deal there. With the withdrawal of the “toxic” State from the Eurozone, the Euro would appreciate in value and the NC would most likely depreciate, which need not be such a bad thing. This has been done before and perhaps the best example of the mechanics of the process is provided by the “divorce” between the Czech Republic and Slovakia in February 1993, implementing the Czech and Slovak Koruna.
The act of printing enough NC would best be done in the preparation period and thus would be avoided an interim period in which two currencies circulated, the Euro and a temporary NC; banks would also be well advised to use the preparation period to adjust their accounting practices and clearing systems and prepare their software. The retail sector would also have time to prepare in exactly the same way as it prepared for the advent of the Euro.
OK that is how it is done, but the consequences would be chaotic
Why? Why should they be? For a start, let us send a clear message to all the EU governments: after creating this mess and imposing this nightmare upon us – those who spent their entire lives working and studying and paying taxes exactly as we were asked to – don’t you dare impose any measures which place an even heavier burden upon our shoulders.
Why chaos, if intelligent policies were pursued by Governments using the G-word approach during the preparation period and the launch of the NC? Bank deposits and internal debt would either remain in Euro or be re-denominated in NC and it would be the domestic courts deciding upon how this was done and for how long, not Brussels, not Barroso and not Berlin. After all, it was Brussels that created this situation by financing countries not to produce. While Brussels perhaps did not know what it was doing, Berlin certainly did.
Government guarantees would have to cover external debt and mortgages would have to be re-denominated – but at the corresponding NC level. They need not rise; why should they? The original contract was for a certain quantity of money over time; there is nothing in mortgage contracts covering an increase in payments over the original agreement and a change in currency.
Finally, capital controls would have to be implemented to prevent a run on the banks or a sudden outflow of currency.
So contrary to what everyone is saying, you are not that pessimistic
No, I am not. As I said, the whole process can be as simple or as complicated as they wish to make it. There are also medium-term advantages. The State withdrawing from the Euro would immediately be free to enter into bilateral financial agreements with foreign countries. With a devalued NC, exports would grow rapidly, jobs would be created, unemployment would decrease, living standards would improve, the fiscal revenue would rise and a decreased burden would be placed upon the State and the citizens.
The State would be master of its destiny and the destiny of its people. National law and customs would once again rule over stupid EU norms such as outlawing the sale of packets of seeds of mixed salad leaves. National currency could be used as leverage to weather the storms inherent in this imperfect market-oriented model of capitalism and to create buffers as it lurches from boom to bust as it is so prone to doing. A depreciated NC would provide a boom for SMCs as they invested in new opportunities, hopefully aided once again by a socially proactive model of Government.
In short, the choice is decades of austerity, unemployment and poverty, social chaos, rising crime and hopelessness which is the solution offered by Brussels, or what I have set out above. Greece, over to you, please show us how it is done.
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

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Greece and the global crisis of capitalism

17 May 2012

The political, economic and social breakdown in Greece is an acute expression of a broader crisis of European and world capitalism.
The fate of this small nation is being decided solely according to the predatory interests of the global financiers and their political representatives at the head of national governments as well as the “troika”—the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
For Greek workers, the impact has been catastrophic. They have already suffered the greatest decline in living standards since the Nazi occupation. Unemployment has doubled to 22 percent and 50.8 percent among young people, while millions more are relegated to precarious and part-time work.
Mass unemployment and poverty are set to worsen. The social counterrevolution in Greece is, moreover, setting a benchmark for all of Europe as the economic crisis spins out of control and the world is plunged into a recession deeper than that triggered by the crash of 2008.
The political stalemate in Greece, following the virtual collapse of the country’s two traditional ruling parties in the May 6 election, takes place within the context of a deteriorating economic situation in Europe, the US and Asia. Falling global equity markets, bank downgrades, rising unemployment and stagnating or declining growth rates point to a slide into depression.
In the US too, mass unemployment, poverty and homelessness are epidemic, and the type of austerity measures being carried out by European governments are replicated at the state and local level. In California, whose economy is comparable to Italy and bigger than Spain, the governor has demanded a new round of drastic cuts in health care, education and public employee wages.
There is an air of unreality surrounding all official discussions on Greece. Politicians and media commentators speak of imminent economic collapse and social devastation in one breath, only to demand that more money be paid over to the banks and greater hardship imposed on working people in the next.
Each proposed way out of the crisis only creates the conditions for deeper crisis down the road. All the money supposedly paid over to Greece as a “bailout” has gone straight into the coffers of its major creditors. Any additional loans will go to feeding the same ravenous beast.
Calls for further sacrifice have become impossible to accept. Mass working class opposition to austerity is on the rise across Europe. This has been expressed not only in the Greek election, but in France and other recent elections in Britain and Germany, where voters repudiated those parties most closely associated with austerity policies.
This reflects an extreme heightening of social tensions, rooted in the existence of an irreconcilable conflict between the most basic needs of the masses and the institutions of capitalist Europe.
Greek workers registered their opposition by rejecting the parties directly involved in negotiating the bailout conditions—PASOK and New Democracy. But the main beneficiary of this sentiment was SYRIZA, a party that speaks for a section of the Greek bourgeoisie that wants more extended debt repayment to avoid economic collapse and cosmetic alterations in the deficit-reduction terms to placate popular opposition. SYRIZA categorically defends the European Union and the euro, while presenting itself as an opponent of austerity, but this circle cannot be squared. Austerity and ever-deeper attacks on the working class are an integral requirement of the bankers’ EU and the capitalist order it defends.
The proposed solution advanced by the Greek Communist Party (KKE)—exit from the euro and a return to the drachma—is also fielded by numerous international commentators. But this would still leave Greek workers at the mercy of the global financiers and keep the rule of the Greek capitalists intact, while the value of workers’ homes, wages and what little savings they have would be immediately slashed by as much as 80 percent.
Ever broader layers within the ruling elite are coming to the conclusion that Greece will be forced to exit the euro zone. Some boast that this can be “managed” and that Greece should be simply pummelled until every last euro has been extracted from its people. Others warn that the very survival of the euro is threatened, as financial contagion spreads throughout the continent and beyond.
The latter view is more grounded in reality. Global financial institutions have a $536 billion exposure to Greek debt, but the Institute of International Finance estimates the true global cost of a Greek exit to be closer to $1.2 trillion, entailing “killer losses”. Wirtschaft Woche magazine says an exit would cost euro zone governments alone $300 billion and would push the continent into a 1930s style depression.
More importantly, a Greek exit will inevitably hasten the collapse of much bigger economies that are teetering on the brink such as Spain, Portugal and Italy. The run on Greek banks, which have already lost more than a third of their deposits since 2010, points to the dangers ahead. A full-blown bank run can quickly develop in one European country after another.
Workers in Greece and Europe have come face to face with the consequences of the failure of the capitalist system. Every “solution” to the present economic crisis that does not take this as its starting point brings with it the danger of further social destruction and a descent into barbarism.
Fresh Greek elections are scheduled for June 17, but they have no more chance of resolving the crisis as those that took place this month.
A new period has opened up where only the most radical solution is realistic. Greek workers must now adopt a revolutionary socialist and international perspective on which to base the struggles ahead. The same applies to the workers in Europe, the US and internationally.
The ruling class anticipates and is preparing for an upsurge in the class struggle, in which they know the destiny of Greece will be decided. PASOK’s Michalis Chrisochoidi, who heads the Ministry of Citizen Protection encompassing the police and secret services, this week warned that following an exit from the euro, “What will prevail are armed gangs with Kalashnikovs, and which one has the greatest number of Kalashnikovs will count … we will end up in civil war.”
Historically, the Greek bourgeoisie has demonstrated that it will stop at nothing, including military dictatorship, when it comes to preserving its rule. The working class must act in this knowledge.
What is required is the development of an industrial and political offensive, with the aim of establishing a workers’ government. Such a government must take control of the commanding heights of the Greek economy, seize the assets of the banks and the corporations and prevent any further flight of capital. The representatives of the troika must be shown the door and Greece’s resources employed to fund all measures necessary to alleviate the suffering of its people and provide decent jobs, education, housing and health care.
These measures will be realisable only as part of a broader political mobilisation of the European working class against the authors of Greece’s tragedy and their own hardship and suffering. Workers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK must take up the fight for the overthrow of Merkel, Hollande, Monti, Rajoy, Cameron, et al. Against the European Union of big capital and the financial parasites, the perspective must be the establishment of workers’ power in a United Socialist States of Europe.
Those who recognise the gravity of the present crisis and the political tasks posed should take their place in the ranks of the International Committee of the Fourth International.
Chris Marsden

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Greece: SYRIZA support sought to enforce austerity measures

By Christoph Dreier 
15 May 2012
SYRIZA supporters demonstrate in Athens on May 7 [Photo: Adolfo Indignado Cuartero]

New elections appear increasingly likely in Greece. The conservative New Democracy (ND) and the Democratic Left (DIMAR) demanded participation of the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA) as a necessary condition for them to form a coalition with the social-democratic PASOK party. SYRIZA turned down the demand and made clear it was unwilling for now to enter into such an alliance.
SYRIZA has already signaled its willingness to participate in a government that implements EU diktats. During the election campaign, it declared that Greece should not leave the euro zone under any circumstances, but rather should seek to renegotiate the budget cuts and debt repayment. Given the uncompromising attitude of the EU, which takes its orders from the major banks, this amounts to an offer to participate in the enforcement of the cuts.
But SYRIZA is unwilling to assume responsibility for austerity policies immediately, preferring to engage in maneuvers that will force a second election which is likely to strengthen its position in the Greek parliament.
In the course of last week, the ND, which polled the most votes in the election, and the second-place and third-place SYRIZA and PASOK all failed to form a viable governing majority. Over the weekend, Greek President Karolos Papoulias had talks with the leaders of PASOK, ND and SYRIZA and then held individual discussions with representatives of the other parties.
After the meetings, SYRIZA Chairman Alexis Tsipras once again declared that under the given conditions he was not prepared to form a coalition with the two former ruling parties, PASOK and ND, which have implemented the austerity programme of the European Union (EU) in Greece.
Tsipras said that a coalition with the two parties would mean disregarding the will of the electorate who voted overwhelmingly in favor of parties that opposed the government’s course.
Taken together, ND, PASOK and DIMAR had a sizeable majority of 168 seats out of 300, Tsipras pointed out, adding: “Their demands for SYRIZA to take part are unprecedented and illogical.” He also called on Papoulias to make the discussions on a new government public.
The chairman of DIMAR, Fotis Kouvelis, then said that his party was still not prepared to support a coalition if it did not involve SYRIZA. “A government without SYRIZA would not have the necessary popular and parliamentary backing,” he said.
The conservative leader, Antonis Samaras, had made similar comments last week. Following negotiations, he complained of the refusal of Tsipras to join in any government. “I honestly do not know where they are going with this,” he said.
The president has called for a meeting on Monday evening involving the leaders of the four main parties to make a final attempt to forge a coalition, but Tsipras has declared he will participate in such discussions only if the right-wing populist Independent Greeks and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also attend.
The ruling elite in Greece and the EU are apparently convinced that they can best regain control over growing popular opposition to the cuts with the help of SYRIZA. In the election, SYRIZA emerged as the second strongest political force on the basis of its declared opposition to the austerity measures.
The election result reflected the extent of rejection of the EU diktats by broad layers of the population. Only one-fifth of the electorate voted for the two governing parties that have dominated the country’s politics since the end of military dictatorship in 1974 and formed a coalition government in recent months.
The fact that these two discredited parties are still almost able to form a majority is related to the undemocratic electoral system in Greece, which guarantees the party with a plurality, no matter how small, an additional 50 seats. New Democracy gained 18.8 percent of the vote compared to 16.8 percent for SYRIZA, but holds 108 seats in parliament compared to 52 for the supposedly “left” party.
Meanwhile, EU officials have made clear that they will make no concessions regarding the deficit-reduction targets that have already led to mass unemployment and poverty. There is even a growing chorus calling for the exclusion of Greece from the euro zone—a step that would lead to hyperinflation and even worse mass misery.
In this critical situation, the main priority for the Greek and European elites is to find a mechanism to keep popular resistance under control. A government involving SYRIZA is reckoned to have more chance of enforcing the pending cuts, perhaps with a few cosmetic changes, than a government relying solely on PASOK, ND and DIMAR.
SYRIZA has no principled objection to participating in such a regime. Last week, it was SYRIZA that commenced talks with ND and PASOK on a government coalition when Samaras passed on the negotiating mandate after just a few hours. Tsipras said that he was even prepared to work together with the Independent Greeks, a right-wing split-off from New Democracy, in order to forge a possible government.
It was only after the publication of new opinion polls indicating that SYRIZA could emerge the winner in new elections that the party shifted its stance. Tsipras subsequently declared that he would not cooperate with the two governing parties and would instead seek to form a coalition of forces opposed to the cuts.
At the same time, he moderated his anti-austerity rhetoric, omitting in a statement his previous calls for a moratorium on debt repayments and stressing the need to renegotiate the terms of EU demands.
The primary objective of a coalition including SYRIZA would be the preservation of the EU, the euro currency and European capitalism. It would negotiate with the EU to achieve at best a few minor changes and then—camouflaged with leftist rhetoric and using its connections with the trade unions—enforce new cuts against the resistance of the workers.

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Coalition talks continue in Greece as EU demands austerity measures

By Christoph Dreier 

10 May 2012
Last Sunday’s elections in Greece amounted to a popular referendum over the austerity measures dictated by the European Union. The previous ruling coalition of PASOK and New Democracy (ND), the parties responsible for implementing the austerity measures, received only one-third of the votes. Moreover, almost 40 percent did not even bother to vote.
Representatives of the EU have responded to the Greek vote by aggressively insisting that austerity measures must go forward, regardless of popular sentiment. They have made it clear that they will not agree to a renegotiation of the fiscal pact but would rather see the country thrown out of the euro zone.
“Greece must be clear that there is no alternative to the restructuring programme that was agreed if it wants to remain a member of the euro zone,” Jörg Asmussen, a member of the European Central Bank’s directorate, told Handelsblatt.
EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso threatened the country with a “disorderly state bankruptcy” if it did not accept the EU decisions. The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz (of the German Social Democratic Party), made specific reference to the coalition negotiations: “The Greek parties should be aware that a stable government, which keeps to agreements, is a prerequisite for further support from the euro zone countries.”
According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the troika of the EU Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund has cancelled its planned mid-May visit to Athens. Meanwhile, the European Financial Stability Facility announced that it would withhold €1 billion from a €5.2 billion loan installment that will be allocated on Thursday.
The EU is threatening that any new government, irrespective of its composition, must fall into line with its dictates. The alternative is a state bankruptcy with devastating consequences. Pensions, wages and benefits could no longer be paid. Expulsion from the euro zone would result in hyper-inflation, destroying savings and wages overnight.
The way in which EU representatives are ignoring the election results points in the direction of dictatorial and authoritarian forms of rule. They pose the necessity for the mobilization of the working class throughout Europe in opposition to the corporate and financial elite. However, none of the parties winning seats in parliament on Sunday is prepared to oppose the dictatorial demands of the banks. Instead, negotiations are being held about how to bring about a stable government in the interests of the EU and the Greek ruling class.
On Monday, Antonis Samaras, chair of the conservative New Democracy, was first to receive a mandate to form a government. ND only narrowly emerged as the strongest party, with its share of the vote falling from 33.8 percent in 2009 to only 18.8 percent. Despite this near collapse, it replaced the social-democratic PASOK as the party receiving the most votes. Under the country’s undemocratic electoral law, this means that it receives 50 extra seats.
As a result, even though New Democracy lost nearly half its vote, its share of the seats in parliament actually rose from 91 to 108. This gives it more than one third of the 300 seats and effective veto power over any coalition government. The two former coalition parties, ND and PASOK, while repudiated at the polls and winning barely 30 percent of the vote between them, control 149 out of 300 seats, a near-majority.
Samaras did not make any serious attempts on Monday to persuade another party to join the government. After just a few hours, he said his efforts had failed and asked the president to charge the second-place party with forming the government. This is the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), led by Alexis Tsipras.
On Wednesday evening the media reported that Tsipras’s overtures had failed, and he was transferring responsibility for forming a new government to Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK, the third strongest party. If he also fails, final negotiations between the representatives of all parties would take place led by President Karolos Papoulias. Should these negotiations fail, then new elections would follow, no later than June 17.
The fact that Tsipras accepted the mandate to form a new government is significant. He is seeking to find a political mechanism to control growing popular anger, while at the same time implementing the EU demands on the basis of some cosmetic changes. This was indicated by his readiness to meet with the new French president François Hollande—who is committed to implementing budget cuts in France—during the talks on forming a new government.
Tsipras sought to put together a left majority comprising SYRIZA, the Communist Party (KKE), and the Democratic Left (DIMAR), a right-wing breakaway from SYRIZA. However, in order to achieve a majority, such a coalition would also need the support of PASOK and the right-wing populist Independent Greeks, a breakaway from New Democracy.
On Tuesday, Communist Party chair Aleka Papariga said the KKE was not prepared to enter a coalition with SYRIZA. The only remaining option for Tsipras was to work with the conservative ND, which clearly supports the EU’s austerity measures and has implemented them over recent months as part of the outgoing government.
Following the rejection from the KKE, Tsipras offered to cooperate with both ND and PASOK. Even before the negotiations on Wednesday evening, he called on them to write a letter to the EU Commission withdrawing their agreement to the austerity measures.
In addition, he presented a five-point plan as the basis for any coalition talks. The first two points call for a halt to all upcoming social cuts and attacks on wages and conditions. The third point targets immunity of ministers from prosecution, while the fourth calls for an investigation of the banking sector. There should also be a moratorium on debt payments pending an international investigation of the causes of Greek government debt, Tsipras said.
This plan reveals Tsipras’s intentions. During the election campaign, SYRIZA declared that it wanted to reverse all cuts. Now Tsipras is demanding only that future cuts be halted. Above all, SYRIZA’s political direction is clear from its position on the EU. The party has several times stressed that under no circumstances would it agree to withdrawal from the EU.
Recognition of the EU has its own logic. It means recognizing the diktat of the troika. While EU representatives ignore the results of a democratic vote and openly threaten the elected parliamentarians, Tsipras wants to sit at the table with them and renegotiate the terms of the austerity measures. His claim that this is possible is a deliberate exercise in duplicity.
That Tsipras wants to negotiate with ND and PASOK shows his main concern is forming a stable government that is able to push through the required cuts against the workers. In this, like PASOK, he is relying on the unions, with whom he already held talks on Wednesday.
This approach follows the logic of SYRIZA’s whole development, which parallels other parties such as the Left Party in Germany or Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, both of which have already been involved in governments imposing social cuts. SYRIZA has played a similar role in local and regional coalitions with PASOK.
SYRIZA has rested on better-off academic and middle class layers, which explains its traditionally low vote. In these elections, the group won the vote of broader layers affected by the cuts. It finished first in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, the three largest urban centers. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the coalition polled well among hospital doctors, pharmacists and above all civil servants who had previously voted for PASOK.
Undoubtedly the rise in votes for SYRIZA expresses the deep opposition to the social counterrevolution implemented by the EU and the Greek elite over recent years. SYRIZA will not meet these expectations in the slightest. Any government in which they participate will be rapidly confronted with massive opposition from the working class.

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Elections in Greece and France herald fresh social conflicts

By Peter Schwarz 

8 May 2012
Sunday’s elections have repercussions for all of Europe. The voting out of Nicolas Sarkozy in France and the devastating defeat of the ruling parties in Greece are an expression of broad opposition to the austerity policies laid down by the European Union. They herald a period of heightened social conflict and fierce political crisis.
The margin of nearly 4 percent with which the challenger, François Hollande beat the incumbent president in France, Nicolas Sarkozy, is relatively small. Nevertheless the change in personnel in the Elysée Palace represents a political turning point. There is only one occasion when an incumbent president failed to be reelected in the history of the Fifth Republic: Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1981. At that time, Francois Mitterrand became the first member of the Socialist Party to win the presidency. Now 17 years after the end of Mitterrand’s presidency Hollande is just the second representative of the Socialist Party to take over the country’s highest office.
Hollande is an experienced bourgeois politician whose program differs only in nuances from that of Sarkozy. He owes his election victory primarily to the support of supposedly left-wing organisations. These repeatedly sought to encourage the illusion that an alternative to the austerity policies of the EU was possible with Hollande.
The candidate of the Left Front, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who received 11 percent of the vote in the first round, called for a vote for Hollande in the second round. He did so arguing this was the only way to unseat Sarkozy and bring about a change of policy. The same argument was employed by the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) and Workers’ Struggle (LO), whose candidates received a combined total of nearly two percent.
In Greece, the conservative New Democracy (ND) and the social-democratic PASOK, who have ruled the country alternately since the end of the military dictatorship 37 years ago and jointly imposed the austerity diktat of the EU, have been decimated. Compared to the last election three years ago ND fell from 2.3 million to 1.2 million votes. The votes for PASOK dropped from 3 million to 0.8 million. Together, the two traditional bourgeois parties received less than one-third of the votes cast. Although the ND has the greatest representation in parliament due to an undemocratic electoral clause that awards it an extra 50 seats, it still does not have enough support to form a government in the 300-seat parliament.
The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) emerged as the real winner of the election and was able to triple the number of its voters from 315,000 to more than 1.1 million. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is working closely on an international basis with Mélenchon’s Left Front and the German Left Party. Like them, he uses anti-capitalist rhetoric while supporting and defending the existing bourgeois institutions, including the European Union. During the campaign, he had always stressed: “We are not against the euro but we are opposed to the policies being pursued in the name of the euro.”
On the far right, both the chauvinist Independent Greeks and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn made significant gains, winning 11 percent and 7 percent respectively, based on nationalist demagogy against the austerity policy of the ND-PASOK coalition.
As the second largest party SYRIZA now plays a central role in Greek politics and will be closely involved in the negotiations for a new government. ND leader Antonis Samaras, who according to the constitution was first asked to form a government, announced on Monday he was unable to form a viable coalition and the job has now passed to the chairman of SYRIZA, Tsipras. If a government with a working majority is not formed by May 17, then new elections must be held by June 17 at the latest.
The German government also suffered a severe defeat on Sunday. Angela Merkel’s governing coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democratic Party, which previously governed in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, lost its majority to a coalition of the SPD, the Greens and a Danish minority party. The CDU lost one percent and the FDP 7 percent.
The election defeats for Sarkozy and Merkel together with the electoral upheavals in Greece augur a period of intense social conflicts. This was the conclusion drawn by the leading business papers, as well as the stock exchanges and financial markets, which have fallen considerably. On Monday morning the euro’s exchange rate fell drastically and European share prices registered losses. At the same time the interest rates on the government bonds of southern European countries soared.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine described the Greek election results as a “warning sign”: “The result is devastating for Greece and devastating for Europe.”
The Financial Times Germany commented that the Greek people had “taken advantage of the election and voted on the savings plans of the government. The result is devastating and dangerous for Europe. In particular radical forces notched up big successes, those parties which reject a restructuring of the blatantly indebted country. “
Handelsblatt wrote: “Together with the financial disaster Greece also threatens to unleash political chaos… This election was above all a vote based on anger.” The paper warns: “The political earthquake expressed in this election is perhaps the harbinger of a social eruption that could quickly spread from Greece to other countries in crisis.”
There is little doubt in these circles that Hollande, Mélenchon, Tsipras, etc., will bow to the dictates of financial markets. A comment in Handelsblatt noted “Francois Hollande, the Socialist who enthuses about the great growth packages will end up on the hard ground of reality in the first year of his term of office… It is the markets which will impose their will on the new president. And it will not be the president who tames the markets. “
Mélenchon, a former member of the Socialists who is well aware of the party’s subservience to the dictates of the markets, assured Hollande of his full loyalty. His comment on Hollande’s electoral success reads like an application for a ministerial post. On his blog, he congratulated Hollande on his victory on Sunday. “I wish the best for both our president and our country,” he wrote, and congratulated the “four million voters of the Left Front, whose votes have now brought about the decision.” The Left Front will work to ensure “that the election defeat of the right and the election of François Hollande leads to the victory of the far-reaching demands which are posed.”
In the case of Tsipras and SYRIZA, the threat of state bankruptcy and expulsion from the EU was sufficient to bring them to order. “Tsipras is indeed radical in his rhetoric against the austerity policies,” notes theFrankfurter Allgemeine smugly, “but he also speaks out against a withdrawal from the euro zone.”
Organisations such as Mélenchon’s Left Front and Tsipras’s SYRIZA will play a key role in the coming period to head off and suppress the anger and outrage expressed in the election results on Sunday. In order to facilitate them in this respect discussions are currently taking place to complement the hated European fiscal pact with a “Growth Pact.” There is now a broad consensus for such a measure stretching from Hollande, the German Social Democrats to ECB chief Mario Draghi and the Financial Times.
The SPD, upon whose votes the government relies on this issue, has announced it will only agree to the fiscal pact in parliament if the government approves a supplementary growth pact. After the election victory of Hollande, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel announced: “Now the issue is: whether Ms. Merkel and her coalition are in a position to negotiate a substantial growth pact? Together with the French socialists, we are prepared for such talks.”
Merkel has signaled her willingness to cooperate: She has also made clear what is meant by a growth pact: structural reforms to improve competitiveness at the expense of workers and the redistribution of existing EU-handouts to boost the profits of some branches of industry. At the same time the austerity programs are to continue unabated. Hollande and Gabriel are also in agreement. Mélenchon and Tsipras will find the necessary “left” phrases to cloak their own consent.
In the coming period everything will depend on workers breaking with these organisations and their false promises and taking up an independent, united struggle for a socialist program.

Greek elections: Workers have no voice

28 April 2012

The Greek elections on 6 May will be contested by the greatest number of parties in any vote since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that 32 of 36 registered organizations are permitted to participate. But despite the many parties on the ballot, workers have no voice in this election.
Last week, EU Commission President Barroso announced the program which the EU intends to impose on the next Greek government. This “European Initiative for Growth and Employment” requires not only additional budget cuts, but also extensive privatization, affecting such sectors as the electric power company, and the liberalization of markets. Moreover, Barroso announced government-imposed wage cuts in the private sector of at least 15 percent by 2014.
The previous attacks on the working class, which have led to a slashing of real wages by up to 65 percent, an official youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent, and long queues at soup kitchens, were directly ordered and organised by the troika of the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank.
When the social democratic PASOK government under George Papandreou had increasing difficulty enforcing these attacks, it was unceremoniously replaced by the “technocratic” government of former ECB Vice President Loukas Papadimos. Even the present election date was set on the direct instructions of the troika.
Under these conditions, workers’ social rights can only be defended in a fight against the EU institutions and the ruling elite in Greece. But not a single party standing in the elections is advocating such an independent perspective for the working class. They all speak for one or another section of the Greek bourgeoisie and, at most, merely argue about how best the attacks on the working class can be carried through.
In addition to PASOK and the conservative New Democracy, which together form the current government, the elections are being contested by theCoalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). It is doing so under the banner of the “United Social Front”, in alliance with former PASOK deputies who have long supported the austerity measures and only spoke out very lately against them—when their own votes no longer mattered.
In its election manifesto, the alliance opposes further cuts in social spending and promises it would reverse the cuts made so far. However, at the same time, it defends Greece’s membership in the EU and the euro zone, and thus the dictates of these institutions. The Greek debt burden should not be written off, but only renegotiated, they say. Under these conditions, any promise to reverse the social attacks is just hot air.
It is becoming clear that SYRIZA wants to play the role that was played by PASOK in the last elections. At the time, PASOK campaigned on the demand for an increase in social spending; then after the election it used its close connections with the unions to enforce the historically unprecedented social cutbacks that Greece has experienced over the last three years.
This is indicated not only by the alliance with the PASOK deputies, but also the numerous offers to the Democratic Left (DIMAR) to form a coalition of all the “left”. DIMAR split away from SYRIZA two years ago and has since tried to create a coalition with PASOK. The goal of the party is to defend Greece’s membership in the euro zone by all means—in other words, to continue the social counter-revolution.
The chairman of SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, said recently that his party would also form a coalition with sections of the right-wing nationalist “Independent Greeks”, in order to secure a governing majority.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) is playing a special role. In the campaign, the KKE has repeatedly said that it would not participate in any coalition government. It campaigns with very radical demands, such as withdrawal from the EU, the repudiation of government debt and even the nationalization of the banks and large corporations.
In reality, these claims serve only to appeal to the anger of the workers in order to steer them into safe channels. According to KKE Secretary General Aleka Papariga, a social revolution in Greece is not on the agenda. Under these circumstances, the correct call for withdrawal from the EU is transformed into a nationalist and reactionary perspective for the reintroduction of the drachma on a capitalist basis.
While the KKE attacks the two major union federations for their collaboration with the government, they seek to prevent workers breaking out of the syndicalist straitjacket.
This found expression in recent years when the unions organised a series of ineffectual 24-hour general strikes. The KKE did not take up the demand of many workers for an extension of the strike, but called for separate and also temporary strikes. Their stewards helped to corral the demonstrators through the streets of Athens. At the central Syntagma Square, the stewards then formed a barrier around the parliament to protect the institution against the angry workers.
Besides DIMAR, KKE and SYRIZA, other smaller groups are on the ballot, which for decades have orbited around these parties and the unions. The largest is Antarsya, in which can be found Pabloites, state capitalists, Maoists and split-offs from the KKE. With their radical rhetoric of “revolution” and a “break with capitalism”, they are a left fig leaf for a possible SYRIZA government. In their election manifesto, one of their main aims is the call for “joint action” by SYRIZA and the KKE.
Given the utter bankruptcy of the pseudo-left organizations and trade unions, and the lack of a serious progressive alternative, the far right parties are acting ever more openly. In addition to the Independent Greeks and the far-right LAOS party, the openly fascist “Golden Dawn” is also forecast to enter parliament.
The current ruling parties, PASOK and New Democracy (ND), which have fallen in the polls from 77.4 to less than 40 percent, have already said they would consider inviting these ultra-right parties to join the government. LAOS was even a member of the current government coalition for a time. PASOK and ND are using similar right-wing demagogy and witch-hunting illegal immigrants. There is no question that they are willing to brutally impose the additional cuts demanded by the EU against the working class.
To counter such dictatorial actions and defend their social rights, Greek workers must reject the “left” parties and trade unions. They need a revolutionary, internationalist party which opposes the ruling elite in Greece and the EU institutions and unites all the workers of Europe with the perspective of the United Socialist States of Europe.
Christoph Dreier

Police violently break up protests following suicide in Athens

By Christoph Dreier 

7 April 2012
Thousands of mostly young people have taken to the streets of Athens following the suicide of 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas on Wednesday. They are protesting against the government’s draconian austerity policies, which have been dictated by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The police responded by brutally breaking up the demonstrations.
Christoulas killed himself with a handgun in Athens’ central Syntagma Square, in front of the Greek parliament where a series of brutal cuts packages have been passed in recent months. In a letter he explained that he preferred to take his life with dignity rather than end up scavenging through garbage looking for food. He urged young people to rise up against the government, which he compared to the puppet regime under Nazi occupation during World War II.
Thousands of young people assembled in Syntagma Square shortly after the announcement of Christoulas’ death. Some chanted that what had taken place was not a suicide, but a “murder perpetrated by the state.”
Many protesters left letters and flowers under the tree where Christoulas took his life. One note read, “Killed by the creditors’ dictatorship.” Another asked, “Who will be the next victim?”
The government and state forces reacted to the spontaneous protests with extreme brutality. The police used a few minor skirmishes as an excuse to proceed with truncheons and tear gas against demonstrators. Ten people were arrested and many injured on Wednesday.
Hundreds of protesters who assembled at Parliament Square on Thursday were quickly dispersed by the police.
According to reports, the security forces have deliberately moved against journalists in order to prevent any reporting critical of the government crackdown. On Wednesday, a reporter for the Antena private television station was admitted to hospital following a beating by police. A journalist from the Net television station said he was also attacked by the police, although he had tried to identify himself as a journalist. “I fell from the sidewalk onto the road, but fortunately, unlike my colleague, I was not injured,” said Georgios Gerafentis.
On Friday, the union of photojournalists issued a statement saying that its members had been attacked in a “barbaric and unprovoked” manner. The chairman of the union, Marios Lolos, also ended up in hospital. Witnesses said he had been repeatedly beaten with clubs.
The union statement read: “The systematic and repeated attacks on members of the press doing their work violates basic human rights and cannot be regarded as random. Even the most naive person must acknowledge that they intend to gag the press.”
Dimitris Christoulas’ daughter, Emy Christoulas, said of her father, “The farewell letter from my father leaves no room for misinterpretation. He was a lifelong left-wing militant, a selfless visionary. His last act was a conscious political action in line with what he believed and did.”
Over the past few years Christoulas had participated in many protests against the austerity policies of the government. According to neighbours, he had hung a banner from his balcony with the slogan “I will not pay,” in support of a movement against the increase in taxes. One of his neighbours said that, “[H]e wanted to make a political statement with his suicide… He was very politicised, but also angry.”
Last summer, the pensioner was involved in the movement of so-called “enraged” citizens who occupied Syntagma Square for several weeks. One of his former colleagues, Nicholas Fotopoulos, told the Guardian that he remembers him well. “Christoulas killed himself under that tree,” Fotopoulos said, “because he had pitched his tent there last summer when the enraged occupied the square.” He continued, “I’m sure he wanted to say something with his death: rise up, take up arms, don’t take it any more!”
Christoulas’ suicide indicates the level of desperation confronting not just pensioners, but many workers and young people in Greece. His death is an indictment of the European Union and the Greek government, which have collaborated closely to destroy wages, pensions and welfare programs. In the past two years, the suicide rate in the country has increased by 40 percent. Since the outbreak of the debt crisis, more than 1,500 people have committed suicide.
The tragic decision of the pensioner to take his own life is also an expression, however, of the broad and profound frustration with the numerous protests called by the trade unions and the “left” parties, aimed at channeling popular anger into harmless channels which do not endanger the austerity measures of the government.
The brutality of the police actions against protesters and journalists is an expression of the increasingly authoritarian forms of rule being developed in Greece. The social counterrevolution, prescribed by the EU and implemented by the undemocratically installed technocratic government of Lukas Papadimos, is incompatible with basic democratic rights.
Recent figures from Eurostat, which underestimate the real extent of unemployment, confirm that only a minority of under 25-year-olds have a job. Those with jobs have suffered huge wage cuts in recent months and are likely to receive little more than the legal minimum wage of 600 euros per month. With class tensions reaching the breaking point the government is responding with violent repression to any form of resistance that is not under the direct control of the unions.
The increasingly authoritarian character of the Greek state is also reflected in the so-called “clean sweep” campaign initiated by the social democratic minister Michalis Chrysochoidis. On the same day that Christoulas took his life, hundreds of police officers with bulletproof vests and dogs charged through the streets of Athens to track down immigrants without residency permits. All foreign-looking pedestrians were stopped and checked, and hundreds were arrested.
The arrested are to be placed in one of the 30 “reception centres for illegal immigrants” (KEPY) that the government plans to build across the country. From there, they will by deported to their countries of origin. Barely 40 years ago, similar camps were used in Greece by the military dictatorship to detain political opponents.

The Greek crisis is only the beginning

19 March 2012

The media reports referred to it as the Greek bailout. This is a complete misnomer. The €130 billion package agreed to by eurozone finance ministers last week was not a bailout of Greece, but of the banks and financial institutions that put money in its bonds.
It is estimated that out of every euro provided by Brussels only 19 cents will go to the Greek government, with the rest flowing straight into the coffers of banks and financial investors. The costs of repayment are being borne by the Greek people. Savage jobs cuts and the destruction of social services are driving the country back to the conditions of the Great Depression. Already, almost a third of the population is estimated to be living below the poverty line.
Announcing last week’s decision, the head of the eurozone group of finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker, emphasised that Athens had to demonstrate a “strong commitment” to “fiscal consolidation, structural reforms and privatisation”—code words for the plundering of Greece by the wolf pack of international finance capital.
Continued “reform,” Juncker claimed, would “allow the Greek economy to return to a sustainable path.” This is a contemptible lie. Greece is in the fifth year of a recession, with the economy contracting by more than 7 percent in the past year. The slide into depression will be accelerated, with unemployment, now at 20 percent, rising still further. Greece is caught in a vicious circle. The imposition of austerity measures is bringing a contraction in the economy, further increasing the debt burden.
Recalling the methods first developed by British imperialism in the nineteenth century, Greece has been turned into a virtual semi-colony of international finance capital. At least four officials of the European Commission, together with representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank (ECB)—the so-called “troika”—will be permanently stationed in Athens to vet the government’s policies line by line.
The repeated claims that the bailout package will reduce Greece’s debt burden are false. When the crisis began in early 2010, the country’s debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio was around 120 percent. It has since risen to 170 percent. Now the stated aim is to cut it back to 120 percent.
The claim that the threat of a widening financial collapse has been averted is also a lie. Last December, European financial markets were within days of freezing. The ECB, fearing a meltdown on the scale of that which followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, intervened to make available almost €500 billion at an interest rate of 1 percent under its longer-term refinancing operations (LTRO) program. A further handout was provided last month, bringing to €1 trillion the total made available to the banks.
Not surprisingly, given the profit-making opportunities it provided, the immediate impact of this program has been to boost financial markets. Banks have used funds acquired at 1 percent to invest in bonds and other financial assets yielding many times that amount, enabling them to provide their CEOs and financial traders with fat bonuses as a reward for their “financial acumen.”
While staving off the immediate threat of a collapse, the LTRO has dragged the ECB deeper into the debt crisis, creating a new source of instability. If and when banks are gripped by another wave of panic and start selling bonds, the ECB will be forced to intervene again.
London School of Economics professor Paul De Grauwe noted in a Financial Times comment: “The LTRO program has relieved the pressure in the sovereign debt markets of the eurozone. But this is only temporary. The peripheral countries are now pushed into a deep recession that will exacerbate their fiscal problems and will create renewed distrust in financial markets.” As a result, he warned, “the sovereign debt crisis will explode again.”
Writing in today’s Financial Times, European columnist Wolfgang Münchau warned that the eurozone crisis was far from over. “If you think the European Central Bank’s policies have ‘bought time,’ you should ask yourself: time for what? Greek’s debt situation is as unsustainable as ever; so is Portugal’s; so is the European banking sector’s and so in Spain’s. Even if the ECB were to provide unlimited cheap finance for the rest of the decade, it would not be enough.”
There are other potential flashpoints beside the so-called peripheral countries. Belgium has a significant debt burden, approaching 100 percent of GDP, as well as a large banking sector. France is running a persistent balance of payments deficit and has a large banking sector with considerable exposure to the peripheral economies.
Outside Europe the stagnation of the Japanese economy and its persistent fiscal deficit of more than 10 percent of GDP are provoking concerns that at some point it could be forced to borrow in international markets.
In the midst of his campaign for re-election, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared the European financial crisis to be over. In fact it is only just beginning. The interaction between the financial turmoil and falling economic output that has characterised the Greek crisis threatens to become a global phenomenon, as growth rates decline or stagnate in the major capitalist economies. Continental Europe, Britain and Japan are at or near recession, the US economy stagnates, while China has significantly downgraded its forecast growth rate.
At the same time, debt levels in almost all the major economies have increased since 2008–2009. Sooner, rather than later, international finance capital will demand significant increases in interest rates on sovereign debt, not only in Europe but more broadly. The attack on Greek workers and youth is only the sharpest expression of an international offensive against the working class.
In all the mass media reportage, the operations of the global financial system and the debt crisis are shrouded in mystifying and arcane language. But the essential class content is clear: the sovereign debt crisis and the consequent gutting of social spending is one of the central mechanisms of a worldwide social counter-revolution.
This global class war can be countered and defeated only with an international response by the working class: a unified struggle for the overthrow of the lords of international finance and the entire profit system in order to begin the reorganisation of the world economy on the basis of a socialist program to meet the needs of humanity. This is the perspective of the International Committee of the Fourth International.
Nick Beams

Hunger and homelessness on the rise in Greece

By our reporters 

14 March 2012
Homeless

A homeless man on Sophokleous Street

The social devastation of Greece over the past three years has led to a drastic increase in homelessness and hunger.
It is officially estimated that a third of Greeks now live below the poverty line, but things are much worse in reality. According to the national statistics bureau ELSTAT, more than 3 million (27.7 percent) of Greece’s 11 million people were already on the edge of poverty or social exclusion in 2010, at the start of the crisis. Since then, the conditions of life for millions have worsened immeasurably.
sleeping

Homeless people at Monastiraki metro station

Mass unemployment is now permanent, with the official jobless rate at 21 percent. For the first time, more than 50 percent of youth are without a job. More than 500,000 people have no income whatsoever in what was, until a few years ago, a nation with rising living standards. So desperate is the situation that some 500,000 people have left the country.
With 1,000 people a day being made unemployed, along with a never-ending onslaught on wages and benefits, an ever widening layer of society is now known as the “new homeless.”
This month, Christos Papatheodorou, social politics professor at the Democritus University of Thrace, told the AFP news agency that homelessness “risks exploding.”
The official poverty figures cited by ELSTAT do not include the thousands of homeless people in Greece. Papatheodorou noted that the European Union statistics institute Eurostat and national agencies “base their figures on a typical household, that is, on those having a roof above their heads. Therefore, the increase of extreme poverty among homeless people does not appear in the statistics.”
The Financial Times commented this month: “As Greece’s crisis deepens, the social fabric is showing signs of unravelling, raising questions about how much more austerity the country can take. Job losses, along with pension cuts, have created a new class of urban poor.”
lineup

People queue for a free meal at the soup kitchen on Sophokleous Street

This entrenched poverty can be seen throughout Athens. In the last year alone an estimated 20,000 people have been homeless in Greece’s capital. This new army of homeless people has had to endure one of the coldest winters in living memory.
World Socialist Web Site reporting team visited two soup kitchens in the city.
kitchen

Georgia Exarchou and a co-volunteer prepare a meal at the church soup kitchen

Georgia Exarchou works as a volunteer cook at the soup kitchen organised by the Agia Asomaton Church on Thermopylon Street, near the historic Agora marketplace. She told the WSWS: “When I started here in 2004, 20 to 30 people asked for a meal each day. One-and-a-half years ago the number was 100. Since then it has risen to 250 per day and among them are more and more children.”
Exarchou has worked for eight years as a volunteer at the kitchen, which is mainly used by native Greeks. She works with ten other volunteers.
Her church receives surplus and out-of-date food from supermarkets and organizes 67 soup kitchens in Athens. Churches feed more than 250,000 people a day all over Greece. “We get no support from the government for this work,” she explained. “They destroyed society in Greece. Greece used to be a nice country, but they destroyed it.”
Georgia

Georgia Exarchou

She continued: “People come here with a lot of problems. A lot of them are homeless. Most of them have health problems. We send them to other help organizations. A lot of people have lost their jobs and can’t afford food any longer. They can’t find work, get no financial support and can’t get the finance to feed their families.”
Exarchou was a young girl when the fascist military regime took power in Greece in 1967. “If it goes on like this, it is going again in the direction of a junta,” she warned.
On nearby Sophokleous Street a building is used to serve food mainly to foreigners and asylum seekers. It is one of the oldest soup kitchens in Athens. One of the feedings is organised by the Agia Asomaton Church.
On this day, some 200 people queued up to receive a small portion of rice and a piece of chicken. Among the people receiving food were young mothers with their children. There were very few chairs available and most people ate standing up in a courtyard area, barely sheltered from the pouring rain.
Eating

People eating food at the soup kitchen on Sophokleous Street

After half an hour, all the people were asked to leave the courtyard and the remains of the food were left to dozens of pigeons. Those who had just eaten began to walk home or walk the streets looking for a dry place to stay for the evening.
One man from Algeria had lived in Paris for a period before coming to Greece. “The social situation in Greece is horrible,” he said. “This is not Europe, Paris is Europe, but here it’s not.” He wanted to return to Algeria because he had a better standard of living there than existing on the street in Greece.
Aamen said he had arrived in Greece from Iran a year ago, hoping for a better life. “I prepared to move to Greece for years,” he said. “Now I am here, but there is no better life anymore. The government destroyed the future of all of us.”
One of the homeless people at the soup kitchen said it was now common for people to ask for food handouts from their neighbors. He said that later in the evening there would be homeless people in some of the main squares looking for food in the garbage.
Leaving the Sophokleous Street soup kitchen, one saw many homeless people sitting or sleeping in doorways. An elderly Greek man was lying on a makeshift bed close to the Monastiraki metro station in central Athens. He explained that he had lived in the streets for ten years and his total income was just eight euros a week.
“You don’t see the new homeless at central places like metro stations, because they are ashamed and prefer to sleep in lonely corners,” he said. “The number of homeless has increased so much. Greece is falling into the Middle Ages again.”
Because of the infected sores that cover his lower legs and feet, he requires daily medical care. Up to now he had managed to get medication from the Doctors of the World, a non-governmental humanitarian aid organisation. However, as a result of the worsening economic crisis, getting access to treatment has become much more difficult. He said he received a smaller dose of his medicine than usual this week.

The Greek agony

10 March 2012

In his novel 1984, George Orwell coined the term “Newspeak” for an ideologically charged language that stands reality on its head. The word “haircut” as applied to the write-down of Greek government debt should be added to the vocabulary of Newspeak.
What is publicly presented as the financial markets’ “sacrifice,” a “waiver” by private creditors, giving up over half of the value of their Greek bonds, is in fact a financial gift to the banks.
The debt swap agreed Thursday night by nearly 86 percent of the creditors will not prevent the bankruptcy of the Greek state. It merely postpones it by shifting the cost of such a bankruptcy from the private to the public sector, on which about three-quarters of the Greek debt will fall.
Indeed, the International Swaps & Derivatives Association ruled Friday that because some private bondholders were forced into the debt swap, the restructuring constituted a “credit event,” triggering payouts of $3 billion in credit default swaps on Greek bonds. This underscores the fact that the deal has not resolved the European and global financial crisis, but set the stage for its intensification, beginning with a new speculative assault on the debt of Portugal, Spain, Italy and even France.
The haircut reduces Greek government debt to private creditors by a maximum of €107 billion. At the same time, the Greek debt to public creditors rises by €130 billion. This is the size of the second Greek financial package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Although it is often called a “rescue fund,” it is not a cash gift, but new loans that Greece must repay with interest.
This €130 billion package will not benefit the Greek budget, and certainly not the Greek population. Rather, it goes directly into the coffers of private financial institutions. Thirty-five billion euros are earmarked as a “sweetener” to induce international creditors to accept the haircut, €23 billion goes to rescue Greek private banks, and €35 billion is allocated in guarantees to the European Central Bank so that it can continue to provide Greek banks with liquidity. The remaining money will be used to repay outstanding loans and interest.
The haircut does not reduce Greece’s debt, but increases it. The targeted reduction of total debt to 120 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020 is to be carried out purely through austerity measures, which will set back the living standards of broad sections of the population by decades.
For private investors, on the other hand, the haircut is a good deal. In return for their Greek bonds, which were last traded at only 30 to 40 percent of their nominal value, they will receive new bonds worth roughly 50 percent, backed by international guarantees covering their redemption and repayment.
Among experts, the real meaning of the haircut is no secret. In the Financial Times on Thursday, US economist Nouriel Roubini called it a “myth” that “private creditors have accepted significant losses in the restructuring of Greece’s debt, while the official sector gets off scot free.”
Roubini concluded, “The reality is that most of the gains in good times were privatised while most of the losses have been socialized.”
The editorial in Financial Times Deutschland on Friday reaches a similar conclusion. It writes: “Those who believe that the participation of private creditors means the burdens of the Greek rescue have somehow been distributed more fairly are mistaken. It is not the private investors who are paying for the major part of the Greek rescue package; that has fallen to the public sector, the tax payers in Europe. The private investors are—in comparison to a bankruptcy of Greece—still well served by this deal.”
Many economists now regard the eventual bankruptcy of Greece as only a matter of time. But by then, the major international financial investors, including Greek millionaires, will have safely stashed away their money elsewhere.
The Greek people, who are already suffering most from the cuts, will be the first to pay for the consequences of bankruptcy. Next, the financial losses will fall on the budgets of those states guaranteeing the EU loans to Greece. These governments will take the situation as an opportunity for further cost-cutting and austerity measures, so as to meet the strict requirements of the Fiscal Pact, adopted by the EU summit in Brussels last week.
The Greek debt “haircut” is part of an international offensive against the working class whose aim is a massive redistribution of income and wealth from the bottom to the top.
Ever since the hedge funds and banks drove the world economy to the brink of collapse in 2008 through their irresponsible speculation they have used the crisis to destroy the social gains achieved by the working class over the previous century. First they bailed themselves out with hundreds of billions of euros from the public purse, then they forced the heavily indebted countries to claw back this money from the general population through austerity measures.
Greece is meant to serve as an example. The European Union and the governments that set the tone in Brussels are pushing for more cost-cutting measures, although this will bring ruin and force people into abject poverty. They are pursuing the same course in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland and other countries with fiscal problems. Even in Germany, the economically strongest country in the EU, a huge low-wage sector has been created and mass layoffs are accumulating.
While the standard of living decreases in the general population, share prices once again reach record levels. Financial executives are pocketing massive sums. The forty best-paid American hedge fund managers last year took in over $13 billion.
The working class of Europe must confront this offensive as a united force and defend all of its rights and past achievements. Workers must not allow themselves to be pitted against each other—German against Greek, French against Spanish. They must break with the establishment parties and trade unions, all of which defend the European Union and the national governments and support their austerity programmes.
Even the most elementary democratic and social rights can be defended only on the basis of a socialist programme that is directed against the dictates of finance capital. The bourgeois governments must be replaced by workers’ governments to radically reorganize economic life so as to meet the needs of society rather than the profit interests of the financial aristocracy. The European Union must be replaced by the United Socialist States of Europe.
Peter Schwarz

German parliament supports austerity for Greece

By Peter Schwarz 

29 February 2012
On Monday, the German parliament approved the new financial package for Greece by a large majority. 496 of the 591 deputies present voted in the affirmative, supporting the devastating austerity measures with which the disbursement of funds is linked.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens voted for the cuts along with most members of the governing parties—Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) and Free Democratic Party (FDP). They are fully behind the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) when it comes to shifting the burden of the international financial crisis onto the working people of Greece and throughout Europe.
Only the Left Party voted unanimously against the package. Seventeen deputies belonging to the government coalition, who want Greece expelled from the euro zone or declared insolvent, also rejected it. Nine other members of the government camp abstained or were absent from the vote. For the first time in such an important vote, Merkel lost the so-called chancellor’s majority, but thanks to the support of the SPD and Greens this had no practical consequences.
The financial package includes €130 billion ($175 billion) from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, provided to Greece in interest-bearing and repayable loans. In addition, there is €34 billion from a previous financial package, which had not yet been issued, and another €35 billion to secure the exchange of old Greek government bonds into new ones.
Although the talk is always of an “aid” or “rescue package” for Greece, the almost 200 billion euros will flow directly into the coffers of the banks. The Greek budget and Greek population will not benefit from them.
According to the Financial Times Deutschland (FTD), €93 billion are needed immediately to ensure the debt write-off by private creditors takes place and to make it more attractive; €35 billion will be used to guarantee bonds held by private banks that are deposited with the European Central Bank; €23 billion for the recapitalization of Greek banks; €30 billion to “sweeten” the creditors to exchange their old bonds into new ones, and €5.5 billion to pay old debt interest.
For creditor banks, this is a great deal. They will write off slightly more than half of the nominal value of their Greek government bonds (which are already worth far less on the market) and will receive new, internationally guaranteed bonds.
Since the €93 billion being used by the EU and IMF to fund this exchange will be charged to the Greek state, the “waiver of more than €110 billion stands against Greece’s newly-issued debt of more than 93 billion euros,” FTDconcludes. The new “rescue package” only reduces Greek debt by about €17 billion if the creditors actually voluntarily “write off” the €110 billion.
According to FTD, the remaining billions in the rescue package are mainly “reserved for servicing old loans from the IMF and public banks, and for interest payments”. The exact details are still not known.
The financial package for Greece is therefore simply an aid package for the banks, for which Greece is liable and must pay a devastating price. The austerity measures, to which the Greek government is committed and which must be reviewed before payment of each instalment, are unprecedented in post-war European history. Only authoritarian regimes, such as the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and Brüning’s emergency government at the end of the Weimar Republic before the coming to power of the Nazis—have imposed similar measures.
Athens is undertaking to sack 150,000 public sector workers over the next four years; to slash the minimum wage and unemployment benefits by a quarter, and cut private sector wages by 15 percent; to reduce spending on medicines by a billion within a year; to raise prices on public transport by 25 percent and to privatize many state enterprises. For many Greeks, this means outright poverty, hunger and even death.
Many experts consider that all the finance package will achieve is to build a “firewall” around the country, so that it can then be allowed to go bankrupt without triggering further state bankruptcies and financial crises internationally.
Greece is the prelude to similar attacks on working people throughout Europe. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on February 22, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi openly declared: “The European social model has already gone. There was no alternative to fiscal consolidation, and we should not deny that this is contractionary in the short term.”
In Germany, the media have made ​​much about the differences within the government camp, which cost Chancellor Merkel her majority. But these differences revolve solely around the question of whether and when Greece should go bankrupt. The ruling coalition, as well as the SPD and the Greens all agree on a policy of social austerity.
Merkel is taking advantage of the dissenters in her own ranks to ward off international demands. The US, most EU member states, and the IMF are urging that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) be stocked up from half to one trillion euros, to secure the banks against future state bankruptcies. The German government has so far rejected this, because it would have to find a large portion of the money required. Pointing to the resistance within their own ranks helps to fend off such claims.
Above all, the tabloid Bild has sought to encourage opposition to the financial aid for Greece among broader social layers by employing chauvinist arguments; on the day of the parliamentary vote, the paper appeared with a large headline: “Stop”.
The same newspaper also published an article by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU), who spoke out strongly in favour of the financial package. Kohl warned of the danger of war and dictatorship if the package had been rejected. After two terrible world wars, one had come to the realization that only a united Europe would provide lasting peace and freedom, he warned: “The evil spirits of the past are not banished; they can come back again and again”. That is why “the great European idea” should be defended against “faint-hearts and doubters”.
The contradiction between Kohl’s plea for the financial package and the negative editorial line taken by Bild is only too apparent: in reality it is the austerity measures being dictated by the EU that are reawakening the “demons of the past”—social misery, dictatorship and war. Europe can only be united in a struggle against the EU and the governments and financial interests that stand behind it.
The Left Party rejected the financial package for purely tactical reasons. It says the package only rescues the banks and speculators, and the anti-social and economically damaging programmes drive Greece deeper into crisis. However, it does so only from the standpoint of arousing illusions in a possible reform of the EU and directing the growing social anger into harmless channels. In practice, the Left Party works closely with the SPD and Greens, and supports austerity measures when needed to ensure a majority.
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