By Alex Callinicos
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Syriza’s compromise won’t beat austerity

This article is over 8 years, 10 months old
Issue 2451
Syriza leader Alex Tsipras
Syriza leader Alex Tsipras (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The rulers of the European Union (EU) are getting seriously annoyed with those pesky Greeks. 

According to the Financial Times newspaper, the eurogroup of finance ministers meeting last Friday saw them “angrily accusing their Greek counterpart of backtracking on commitments and failing to grasp their deep differences”. 

This is the latest in a flood of articles from this normally more balanced newspaper to target the government led by the radical left Syriza party that swept to office three months ago. There have been hostile profiles of left ministers and even suggestions Syriza is soft on terrorism.

The lowest point was reached by Chris Giles’s article “How to deal with a problem child like Greece”.

Giles seems to be the leader of the pro-austerity faction at the Financial Times. He was the author of a clumsy attempt to discredit the figures economist Thomas Piketty used to demonstrate that economic inequality is growing in the advanced capitalist world.

Giles summed up the attitude of participants at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting in Washington, “No one understands Greece’s behaviour in shunning the talks since an outline deal was agreed in February. 

“They call it childish. Many say privately that the Greek authorities are behaving like a toddler having a tantrum.”

This kind of patronising arrogance helps to explain why people are in revolt against the EU and the elites that have forced through austerity.

The anti-democratic logic of these attitudes was brought out in an earlier piece. It reported, “Many EU officials—up to and including some eurozone finance ministers—have suggested privately that only a decision by Alexis Tsipras, Greek prime minister, to jettison the far left of his governing Syriza party can make a bailout agreement possible.


“The idea would be for Mr Tsipras to forge a new coalition with Greece’s traditional centre-left party, the beleaguered Pasok, and To Potami (The River), a new centre-left party that fought its first general election in January.”

The crass stupidity of these suggestions is mind-boggling. Tsipras, having seen Syriza climb from 3 to 36 percent, should throw all this away at the behest of Brussels, Berlin and Frankfurt to ally with a bunch of losers. Pasok, the old Greek Labour Party, was virtually obliterated in January.

The tactics pursued by the Syriza government are perfectly rational. The deal Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis signed up to in February committed it to continuing with the agreements made by previous governments.

They included implementing neoliberal “reforms” and meeting debt repayments in the hope of keeping money flowing in, particularly from the European Central Bank (ECB) into the Greek banking system.

The trouble is that this deal implies continuing austerity and abandoning the genuine reforms Syriza promised in opposition. 

Of course Tsipras and Varoufakis aren’t going to admit this. The endless lectures on the stupidity of austerity the latter gives at every opportunity may irritate the eurogroup, but they throw dust in everyone’s eyes.

Meanwhile, gradually and painfully, the government is scraping together the money to repay the IMF, the ECB and the other vultures.

This is draining resources from a public sector already starved of funds.

The privatisation of Piraeus port is going ahead, even though on coming to office Syriza said it would halt it. Even worse, it emerged last week that right wing defence minister Panos Kammenos has been allowed to sign a £360 million deal to upgrade five P-3B Orion maritime patrol planes. Greece’s biggest military procurement since 2006 will allow the navy to hunt more efficiently for “illegal immigrants”.

Tsipras is determined to demonstrate to the “institutions” —as the IMF, ECB, and European Commission now call themselves—that Syriza can deliver what they are demanding. There are rumours he may be willing to sacrifice Varoufakis. 

No doubt he is hoping to be rewarded by being allowed to relax austerity. But this strategy means that ordinary people in Greece will continue suffering.

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