As 2015 comes to a close, here’s a podcast and a post that’s something in between a best of and a year in review. It’s a look back at some of my interviews from 2015, both in terms of significant subjects and personal favourites.
After Syriza accepted a third austerity memorandum for Greece and called early elections, much of its leadership left the party. Some formed Popular Unity, while others are still searching for a new home to continue the fight against austerity.
Andreas Karitzis is among the latter. Until this summer, he was a member of Syriza’s central committee and had been a key figure in the party’s electoral planning process before its triumph in January’s elections. Karitzis was also previously at the Nicos Poulantzas Institute, the research center affiliated with Syriza.
Now outside Syriza, Karitzis recently spoke on my podcast about charting an anti-austerity path when a left government is responsible for implementing austerity. “The Greek experience,” Karitzis says, “teaches us that we need to go beyond electoral politics, not against it.” This transcript was originally published in Jacobin.
Two updates from Southern Europe this week: Catarina Principe brings us up-to-date on the situation in Portugal and Andreas Karitzis recounts the search for a new politics in Greece after (and under the rule of) Syriza.
My first guest, Catarina Principe, is an prominent activist in Portugal’s Bloco, or Left Bloc, the country’s new broad left party. She been a member since her teenage years and has sat in the governing structures of the party. She is also a prolific writer. Most recently, she has been editing a collection of essays on the European left, to be published in May 2016. The Left Bloc gained its largest vote share ever in Portugal’s recent elections. The possibility that there might be a social democratic government that it supports has created a political crisis that today remains unresolved.
Andreas Karitzis was, until this summer, a member of Syriza’s central committee and had long been a key figure in the party. He was instrumental in the planning process after 2012 and also previously worked at the Nicos Poulantzas Institute, the research centre affliated with Syriza and named after the influential Greek socialist political theorist. Like many, he is now searching for a new home to continue the fight against austerity.
To recap: Syriza maintained power in Greece after September’s general election. The party and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, also remained committed to implementing the new austerity memorandum “negotiated” with Europe’s bureaucrat and banker overlords. Since the summer, many people, including Andreas, have exited Syriza and the left has once again fractured. Andreas speaks with me about how to do politics in this new conjuncture.
This is the full transcript of my podcast interview with John Milios; it appeared earlier this week in Jacobin. John is a prominent figure within Syriza; he was the party’s chief economic advisor until earlier this year and is also a member of the party’s central committee, one of the 109 who signed a letter last week opposing the new memorandum.
Here, he discusses Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to hold the July 5 referendum, the anti-austerity course not taken by Syriza, and how the slogan “people over profits” can become a concrete reality in Greece.
Michal Rozworski: What is the situation one week after the memorandum was agreed to and two weeks after the referendum?
John Milios: When the referendum was proclaimed, we saw an election campaign that had class and social characteristics. There were two “Greeces” fighting each other. On one side, you had roughly the poor, wage-earners, the unemployed, and the small entrepreneurs, while on the other you had the capitalists, the managerial class, the higher ranks of the state, and so on agitating for Yes.
Ultimately, a broad coalition of the social majority saw the referendum as a chance to express their commitment not to continue with austerity and neoliberalism. All this happened in a situation of fear and terror arising due to the European Central Bank’s choice to not extend Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to the Greek banks. A lot of people saw this as a scare tactic and started withdrawing money. Ultimately, it led to a bank holiday.
Greece continues to be in flux. Two weeks ago, the Greek people voted over 60% No in a referendum on further austerity. One week ago, the Greek government agreed to a new Memorandum in principle after an all-night negotiation, described at times as “mental water-boarding”. Finally, last Wednesday, the first pieces of enabling legislation were passed by the Greek Parliament with a large rebellion of Syriza MPs voting against the laws.
Since then debate has raged in and outside Greece about the future of the Eurozone, the political strategy chosen by the Syriza leadership and the future of this first government of the left in post-crisis Europe. This interview with John Milios is an important intervention into this debate.
John Milios is a long-time activist and prominent figure within Syriza. Until early this year, he was the party’s chief economic advisor. He is also a member of Syriza’s central committee and was one of the 109 out of 201 members of the central committee who signed a letter published last week opposing the new Memorandum. He is a professor of political economy and the history of economic thought at the National Technical University of Athens.
Alternate title: #Gruster#$%k. My most recent piece from Ricochet on Syriza’s proposed austerity package.
There is acrimony and division in Athens, after the Syriza government submitted a revised list of proposals to its creditors. Despite a resounding victory in last Sunday’s referendum for Oxi — the “no” vote rejecting creditor demands that Greece fall in line — the government has presented austerity measures that exceed those previously on the table.
Despite dissension within the ranks of Syriza, the Greek parliament approved the government’s proposals in a bitter debate and vote that stretched into early Saturday morning.
The proposal now includes €13 billion in measures over three years rather than €8 billion over two. In short, it is a terrible austerity package. It enforces consecutive primary surpluses (calculated as Greece’s budget balance minus debt servicing payments) on a depressed economy, cutting expenditures on transfers like pensions and raising taxes.
In contrast to previous proposals and memorandums, the current proposal somewhat moderates the intense class bias of austerity measures. More of them are directed towards the rich in the form of small corporate tax hikes, a more progressive income tax, and cuts to spending on military contracts. All this, however, is far too little to talk about in any serious way. After so many “last chances” at the level of official negotiations, punitive austerity appears to be the edge of possibility in Europe today.
To say this shows the bounds of a neoliberal, technocratic Europe sounds a little hollow by now. Yes, a split has finally appeared between the creditors — France helped Greece draft its proposals, which Germany sees as insufficient — but if the political choice in Europe is between François Hollande’s technocrats and Angela Merkel’s, then it is the slimmest of margins to be toying with.
Poland’s man in Brussels, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, has truly settled into his shoes as a new member of the European elite. On Tuesday, he issued the stern warning: “Our inability to find agreement may lead to the bankruptcy of Greece and the insolvency of its banking system. And for sure, it will be most painful for the Greek people.”
Such threats are common currency among Euro-elites. Tusk shows just how well the Polish political class, alongside those of the other Eastern European countries, has been integrated into the power structures and ideology of neoliberal Europe.
At home, the Polish Prime Minister as well as her Minister of European Affairs have also derided Syriza as populist and dismissed its appeals to democracy. They echo an increasingly integrated elite across all of Europe that prizes technocracy over democracy, has learned to play divide and conquer at home and is ready to use the language of the Mafioso when it comes to anyone not playing by the rules.
This week has been a taste of what the economy would look like with a real rupture with the Eurozone: uncertainty, elite blackmail, banks teetering on the brink and the start of rationing. That the mobilization of Syriza and the left outside it has overcome this and made Oxi a possibility is impressive. Greece and its economy can expect no miracles either way Sunday’s vote goes and for quite some time afterwards, but they deserve full international solidarity.
And so on the eve of the Greek referendum, with the streets of Athens still buzzing from Friday night’s enormous Oxi!/No! rally in Syntagma Square, I’ve collected and parsed some of my notes on Greece from afar. A text on where things stand is first, then some notes on how things came to be for those not keeping close track the past few months.
Where things stand
Five months of torturous, fruitless negotiations came to a head last week when the more-or-less polite dance around the table in Brussels abruptly broke down. Whether this was a costly demobilization or a calculated strategy to demonstrate the intransigence of the Institutions doesn’t quite matter at this point. When Alexis Tspiras called a referendum on a take-it-or-leave-it offer last Friday, he precipitated a political rupture, which soon started to foreshadow the economic rupture that Greece leaving or being pushed out of the Euro would bring.
My latest piece on Greece was published yesterday at Ricochet. In short, Europe and the IMF’s message that ‘there still is no alternative’ proves that objective of punitive austerity is political, not economic. Here it is in full:
The project’s aim is to make an example of Greece and solidify austerity as the only option within a Europe united by elite interests. Emergency summits, duelling proposals, trickles of banking system support and stern warnings create an economic veneer to paper over ultimately political aims.
Take the latest “compromise” proposal made yesterday by Greece’s ruling party Syriza. It offers a whopping additional €8 billion in austerity measures over the next year and a half. These measures amount to 1.5 per cent of GDP in 2015 and nearly 3 per cent of GDP in 2016. Rather than a compact for growth, or even stability, Europe has squeezed out yet more painful austerity that will make it much harder for Greece to escape its 21st-century Great Depression.
It is “not the right moment” to discuss debt relief, Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU Commission, was quoted saying, despite the increasing concessions. This is the political, not economic, function of the Greek debt. It’s not the right moment economically to discuss the debt because Greece has long been insolvent, its debt repayments kept on track by drip-fed funding via subsequent agreements of austerity. Politically, it’s never the right moment, because each new agreement maintains austerity as the only possible option.
Last week it was Andrew Coyne; this week it’s Jack Mintz. Seems all the National Post’s favourite conservative commentators have suddenly decided to offer their Very Serious Advice™ to Alberta’s new government. While Coyne made a spurious comparison between raising the minimum wage and instituting a minimum income, Mintz outdoes him with an even more spurious comparison between Alberta and Greece.
Simply put, it is completely disingenuous to compare Greece to Alberta. Greece has seen its economy lose a quarter of its GDP since 2008 – a level of economic crisis unseen since the Great Depression. Unemployment has spiked to over 25%, youth unemployment is over 50% and poverty is widespread. While private creditors who participated in the pre-crisis boom have been bailed out, Greece has been forced into a vicious spiral of austerity driven by an unsustainable debt.
What’s the situation in Alberta? Alberta is still expected to grow, albeit very slowly, in 2015 according to most economists. Unemployment is up by 1% from a year ago, before the oil price crash. In part this is due to firms trying desperately to find efficiencies and cut costs to maintain profits. The picture is not rosy to be sure, but Alberta is in a wholly different category from Greece.
However, not only are Alberta’s problems completely unlike those of Greece, Mintz is wrong about Greece itself. Mintz joins the chorus of mystification that presents Greece as profligate rather than insolvent. It’s not the flow of “unsustainable deficits” but the stock of crushing debt and insolvency that is driving Greece deeper and deeper into crisis–one openly abetted by creditors hoping to make it an example for anyone else in Europe hoping to free themselves from the yoke of austerity.