Monthly Archives For February 2015

Syriza’s Historic Victory and the Prospects of the Left

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The Greek elections of January 25th have given a decisive victory to SYRIZA. It is a victory not only of the Greek but also of the European Left, which can prove of historical consequences for the further course of Europe.

SYRIZA gained 149 seats in the Greek parliament, just falling short of the required majority of 151 to form a government of its own. However, it achieved a clear preponderance, with an 8.5% margin, against the hitherto ruling conservative party of ND, and was able to form a government with the support of ANEL, a small Right party.

The result of the elections was hailed by the Greek laboring people with relief as opening a prospect of escape from their sufferings, the austerity measures, unemployment and poverty, deriving from the Memoranda imposed by the Troika after 2010. It was these laboring people who gave victory to SYRIZA against the ruling parties of the establishment. These parties, PASOK and ND, had followed faithfully all directions of the Troika, resulting in an unprecedented fall of wages by almost 30% (and even more in some categories of workers) and record unemployment of about 25-30% (more than 50% in the youth). There is now broad expectation within the people that at least some of the burdens and misfortunes they suffered during the last years will be raised and that they will achieve a betterment of their condition. At the same time, besides a willingness to fight for their interests, there is also some anxiety and uncertainty about the next day. SYRIZA’s result has given hope to the people but has not completely eliminated fear, as everyone here in Greece knows that, in view of strong pressures and blackmail from the EU, it will not be easy for the new government to effect the promised changes.

SYRIZA’s victory and the formation of the new government have aroused great interest in the rest of Europe as well, provoking reactions from all sides. Conservative forces have hastened to “remind” that Greece must implement the obligations ensuing form the Memoranda – German chancellor Merkel, minister of Finance Schaeuble and French president Francois Hollande have already made such statements. On the other hand, Left parties, activists and intellectuals all over the world hailed the result as a great opportunity and spur to the fight to end austerity policies.

The elections have shown some other significant, even if secondary, trends too with regard to all other parties and the rest of the Greek Left. They witnessed the smashing up of intermediate “center-Left” parties, the formerly mighty PASOK and DIMAR, being replaced by the colorless Potami (the Greek word for “The River”), the firmness of the Golden Dawn Nazis coming out as the third party, a mediocre rise of the Anti-capitalist Left formation ANTARSYA and the relative stability of the neo-Stalinist KKE[1].

All these aspects have received extensive commentary in Greece from analysts on the Left and the broader political spectrum. In the present article we will commend on the result and the course taken, hoping to throw some light on the issues involved – issues that are crucial not only for the Greek but for the European Left as well.

 1. The result of the elections

Seven months ago, commenting on the result of the Greek EU elections in an article in this site, the present writer had called it “a clear, historical, but still not decisive SYRIZA victory”. The same thing may be said in an even stronger sense about the result of the present parliamentary elections. It was a still more imposing and great victory for SYRIZA but yet still not decisive.

Throughout the election campaign, SYRIZA’s leadership persistently called the electorate to give SYRIZA a parliamentary majority (i.e., at least 151 seats) in order to be able to fulfill unhindered its program. During the last days before the vote, polls showed this to be a realistic possibility. Yet, after a thriller lasting almost all the elections night, SYRIZA failed to acquire the majority needed by the narrowest margin.

The fact that there was something lacking in SIRIZA’s result in both contests cannot be considered purely an accident and some explanations have been offered.

SYRIZA’s momentous rise in the 2012 elections was due chiefly to the big social movements of “Aganaktismenoi” that developed in Greece during 2011-12. However, after ND won the 2012 elections and was able to form a coalition government with PASOK (and, initially, with DIMAR too) the movements subsided. Despite occasional outbursts, there was a general mood of weariness within the people, who saw their previous big struggles being defeated and, in an immediate sense, remain ineffective.

To this natural reaction may be added the fact that SYRIZA adopted, to a bigger or lesser extent, a tactic of waiting, expecting power to fall in its hands like a ripe fruit after the inevitable decline of the ND-PASOK rule. This does not mean, as a number of Leftists imply in their criticisms, that SYRIZA should be regarded directly responsible for the decline of the movements, or that it acted as a barrier to their revival. The retreat of the movements was to a certain extent inevitable and SYRIZA could not have reversed it at will. The point is however that during the last two years its stance was somewhat passive and inactive, consisting of excessive “realist” adjustments and failing to strengthen its ties with the people in the new situation.

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Leave it out!  Left in and left out in Irish Syrizian thinking

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The imminent truncation of the Labour Party and the rise of Sinn Féin would probably have tabled it anyway. But the reaction to Syriza’s election in Greece has changed the topography of the Irish left unity discussion (such as it is) in one long political week.  Not necessarily for the better. Sinn Féin and then SIPTU President Jack O’Connor , and others,  have shifted the frame from a radical left alliance to one effectively taking in Sinn Féin and even Labour.

These two propositions are very different animals altogether. Furthermore, in a burst of ‘yeah, let’s do it too’ élan, people are now talking about going for a left government. The strewn constellation of the radical left will likely be split on the wider of the projects, even if it gets no further than a talking point. Including even a shrunken Labour is almost a no-no for the radical left. Including Sinn Féin is highly problematical to say the least. (Some categorise them outside the left; the anti water charge campaign left their left flank exposed, and may still do; two recent developments raised leftist eyebrows that may not have been raised before: the cutback provisions of the Stormont House Agreement and their failure to support Clare Daly’s December Bill to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion).

But here is another problem. Sinn Féin’s stature as a left party does not depend on how they are viewed by one or other far left party, but on how they are viewed by the electorate (voting workers, blue and white collared). It will be very difficult to carry an argument for a united left alternative while simultaneously arguing that it should exclude Sinn Féin (and arguing for a similar exclusion with those who would want to add Labour too).

Fortunately there is an old shepherd’s crook on the Irish left for separating the sheep from the goats: coalition with conservative parties (effectively Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael). If this condition is raised by the radical left it requires Sinn Féin (and Labour) to qualify their political positioning, and rescues the radical left from the accusation of refusing to unite for a ‘left alternative’ offered (with various degrees of sincerity) to the people. So, there is a simple question for Sinn Féin, Jack O’Connor and others. Would a vote for Sinn Féin or Labour be guaranteed as a vote for the left? Or could it end up as a vote for another coalition led by, or with a large bloc from, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael? How do you stand – now – on such a coalition? Of course there are crucial policy and programmatic matters to be considered. But this initial question would indicate whether there really is any game on at all.

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Early Birthday Poem For President Higgins

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After The Abuse Hurled At Him By Gurriers

after Oliver Goldsmith and Marilyn Monroe

 

You stand stall, your integrity so vast

you need help from an army officer

dragging it up the steps of aircraft.

Your intellect a Gillette disposable

razor, and matched only

by your ability to make

a simple idea sound complex.

Why evade the issue,

when one can instead engage

in circumlocution?

 

You’re bigger to us than Thor,

or Apollo, only with a slightly

different hairstyle. Times

when our thoughts were stuck

on bread and butter, for lack of either;

we’d turn to you for inspiration,

the ripple moving across your

enormous forehead signifying either

impending flatulence or thoughts

on the situation in Nicaragua.

 

The insult thrown at you last week

the worst a head of state has suffered

since Charles the First lost out

to an axe of questionable parentage.

Though rest assured, all

about Galway, men and women

of consequence are having

heart attacks on your behalf,

and raising glasses

to the man we know

never called anyone

a wanker.

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The Wrath of Kane: Banking Crisis and Political Power

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While his whole testimony requires examining in a little more depth, I think this is a good standalone clip from evidence to the banking inquiry given by Prof. Ed Kane on Wednesday 28 Jan 2015.

He was asked by Deputy Pearse Doherty to elaborate on the statement below which was made in a paper that Kane co-authored in 2004:

Realistically, every government-managed disaster relief program is a strongly lobbied tax-transfer program for redistributing wealth and shifting risk away from the disaster’s immediate victims. A systemic crisis externalizes – in depositor runs and in bank and borrower pleas for government assistance – a political and economic struggle over when and how losses accumulated in corporate balance sheets and in the risky portfolios of insolvent financial institutions are to be unwound and reallocated across society.

Professor Kane’s analysis is that the way a crisis plays out in terms of who pays for the crisis is an issue of power – that is, it is related to the nature of political and economic power in a state and the relationships between the worlds of finance and politics.

Anyway, the official transcript is below, with a video clip of the ecxhange. You’ll notice that the official transcript differs slightly from the actual exchange, but not in a significant way. The meaning is still captured and essentially stays the same.

the 2004 paper referenced is available here.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: [your] 2004 paper says that while policy-making during a crisis may be of the seat of the pants variety, the policy itself is informed by a political and economic struggle over who pays for the losses. How important in the view of Professor Kane is that dynamic, namely, the political and economic struggle of who pays for the crisis in terms of framing the terms of the resolution?

Professor Edward Kane: I think it is terribly important. I define a crisis as a battle over loss allocation. There are firms with losses and no one wants to hold them. People are contracted to take the losses, by writing insurance or lending money or bonds, but they do not want to pay and they have the political power, in many cases, to see that they are paid. My superficial understanding of Ireland is that many foreign creditors were paid off with Irish taxpayers’ money and it is astonishing to me how good politics, the way a republic or a democracy is supposed to work, would ever lead to that solution.

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Debt? What Debt?

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With the Dail to debate a private members motion from Catherine Murphy, TD calling for support for a European Debt Conference, it is worth looking over Ireland’s debt numbers; especially as we will get a flood of claims from some quarters that our debt level is fine, its’ sustainable, we don’t need debt relief, etc. etc. etc.

The starting point in such debates is the question:  is Irish debt sustainable.  This can, however, descend into a black hole of formulae.  Simply put, just about any debt can be considered ‘sustainable’ if the debtor is willing to starve the kids and live under the railway bridge.  ‘Sustainable?  Sure, but there will be sacrifices’ (which, in Ireland are never inventoried).  If you believe this is an exaggeration, consider the EU elite’s attitude towards Greek debt levels. 

Let’s go through some bald numbers.

Debt 1

Irish debt is among the highest in the 19 Eurozone countries.  Officially, it is at 110 percent of GDP; when measured against our fiscal capacity as suggested by the Fiscal Council, it rises to 122 percent.  We’re placed fourth though look out for Cyprus and Belgium in the next few years.

When we turn to what some call an ‘illegitimate’ debt – that private banking debt that we all ended up paying for – Ireland remains league leader.

Debt 2

While banking debt makes up a quarter of our GDP, in the Eurozone the total debt is less than 2 percent.  And for Ireland, this doesn’t count the nearly €20 billion taken from the National Pension Reserve Fund for recapitalisation – since this is categorised ‘investment’ and not debt.   Were it not for the official banking debt, our overall levels would be close to the average Eurozone level. 

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Tsipras versus Cameron: people versus bankers

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This article originally appeared on Socialist Economic Bulletin on the 1st of Feb 2015. 

David Cameron became the first elected politician in Europe to criticise the election of the Syriza government in Greece and was quickly followed by George Osborne. This might seem odd as Britain is outside the Eurozone and has limited direct influence over its policies. But the urgent and unrestrained nature of the criticism is very revealing about what is at stake in the anti-austerity struggle and specifically the very different roles being played by the British and Greek governments.

The Syriza government represents the popular will to end austerity. Only the parties of the left increased their vote in the recent election, and that was overwhelmingly to Syriza’s benefit with a rise of 9.4%. But entirely new parties and even parties of the traditional right adopted similar anti-austerity rhetoric in an effort to shore up their vote. The election showed the Greek popular majority wants to end austerity.

In Britain the banks have an extraordinarily large weight in the economy. Consequently, this dominance is felt through all areas of political and social life. A recent Global Financial Stability Reportfrom the IMF (pdf) demonstrated the dangerously lop-sided nature of the British economy by focusing on ‘shadow banking’, the artificially created networks of companies and vehicles to disguise the real liabilities of the banks. In Britain shadow banking accounts for over 350% of GDP. The next highest exposure of all the industrialised areas or economies is the Eurozone at less than 200% of GDP. The phrase ‘too big to fail’ is insufficiently grave to convey the threat posed by the outsized level of British bank liabilities.

This explains the sudden and intemperate Tory interventions against the newly-elected Greek government. The British government represents the interests of British big businesses and the most important of these is the banks. The banks have sharply reduced their loans outstanding to Greek borrowers. As Martin Wolf the Financial Times’ chief economics commentator explained recently, the banks in general were the key beneficiaries of the bailout, not the Greek economy or its population. Since the €254bn bailout organised by the Troika just €27bn was to support the Greek economy. The rest went to creditors with British, German and Dutch banks at the head of the queue for the taxpayer-funded bailout. But the huge debt is incurred by Greek taxpayers, and so the debt burden is unbearable.

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January/February Socialist Voice Out Now

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The January/February Socialist Voice is now available online at http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/index.html.

Apologies to our readers but we had major technical difficulties at the beginning of the year.

Laughing all the way to the bank: Eugene McCartan

We have begun a new year just like the old one: the political establishment treating the people like fools, weaving a web of deception about their failed policies with the pretence that we have “turned the corner” and are on our way back to economic health.

Again Ireland has been touted as the poster boy for compliance, with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and others from the EU Central Bank congratulating the Irish people on the sacrifice they have made and for taking the medicine dished up by them without a whimper and declaring that the rest of Europe should follow our example.

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/01-laughing.html

Political statement: CPI

At its first meeting of 2015 the National Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Ireland discussed and evaluated the political and economic situation as experienced by working people, north and south.

It is clear that the imposition of “austerity” is still the central plank of both the British and the Irish governments as well as a requirement of the European Union. It is the means of continuing to attack and undermine workers’ conditions and of ensuring the survival of the monopoly-capitalist system itself.

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/02-statement.html

Urgent need for a living wage:  Tommy McKearney

If the slogan “A car in every garage and a chicken in every pot” was once used by a candidate for the US presidency as a definition of prosperity, then a charity shop on every street corner and a food bank in every town centre appears to have become the signal of “austerity for working people” in 21st-century Ireland.

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/03-wage.html

Unite demands that the government treat young workers equally

Unite has reiterated its call for the minimum wage to be increased to €9.65 an hour for all workers. With one in every five people at work suffering deprivation, tackling poverty pay must be the priority.

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/04-unite.html

The elections in Greece: A clear message to the European Union

The working people of Greece have delivered a clear message to the European Union, to the International Fund and to the Greek oligarchs that they have had enough of “austerity,” enough of being bullied, enough of being dictated to by these forces.

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/05-greece.html

Christians need to face their bloody past:  Rev. Richard Bryant

Since the horrific massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, I’ve heard numerous discussions in the media regarding “good” and “bad” Muslims. Commentators and journalists ask, “How do we in the west know who is a good or a bad Muslim?”

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/06-christians.html

Pope lashes the “Golden Calf”:  Bernard Murphy

For Pope Francisco Bergoglio, economic inequality is the world’s biggest problem. And he sees capitalism as being at the centre of inequality.

As liberation theology was not exactly flavour of the month in the second half of the twentieth century with most of the solidly conservative Irish Catholic hierarchy, many socialists here will find it strange to have an unexpected ally in the Vatican. Yet in the following short extracts, taken directly from his Apostolic Exhortation, a 67-page manifesto published a year ago, the Pope doesn’t mince his words.

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/07-pope.html

Venezuela: New measures announced by Maduro as the economy wobbles

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela announced numerous economic measures during his annual address to the National Assembly, without announcing an increase in petrol prices, as was expected.

Petroleum in Venezuela is “the cheapest in the world,” he declared, but “the moment has arrived to raise prices.” For one US dollar you can purchase 1,800 litres of subsidised petrol, which generates $12½ billion of expenses for the state. “They may crucify me, but we must do it this year, in 2015,” Maduro said.

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/08-venezuela.html

The view from Cuba

Seán Edwards interviewed Noel Carrillo, former Cuban ambassador to Ireland, in Havana on 14 January 2015

SE: The Communist Party of Ireland has already expressed its congratulations to the Cuban people on the release of the five Cuban anti-terrorists from prison in the United States, and you have replied. Have you anything to add at this point?

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/09-cuba.html

Quo vadis, EU (and Ireland)?   Tomás Mac Síomóin

While Europe’s core economies—Germany, France, etc.—stagnate, Spain’s conservative Rajoy government and its Troika neo-liberal gurus are cock-a-hoop at the Spanish economy’s growth rate of 0.6 per cent. Spanish working people bear the enormously heavy costs of this “success story”: shrinking pay packets along with burgeoning poverty, evictions, and homelessness, whole families subsisting on their grandparents’ meagre pensions, child hunger, an unemployment rate of 26 per cent (56 per cent for under-25s), emigration of the young, a growing black economy, etc. g.

Housing action now:  Noel Martin

Ada Colau and Adrià Alemany, Mortgaged Lives: From the Housing Bubble to the Right to Housing (Los Angeles: Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, 2014).

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/11-housing.html

An Irish Faustus:  Reviewed by: Jenny Farrell

Tomás Mac Síomóin, The Cartographer’s Apprentice: A 21st-Century Fable (Nuascéalta, 2013).

It would be unfair to Tomás Mac Síomóin to suggest that he has a one-dimensional or indeed one-sided view of Satan. In his newly translated novel Satan first appears in the apparently kindly shape of Mephistopheles,

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/12-faustus.html

Two books on the Spanish Anti-Fascist War: Review Manus O’Riordan

Jack Bourke and John King, From the Shannon to the Ebro: The Limerick Men Who Went to Fight Franco (Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust, 2014)

Barry McLoughlin, Fighting for Republican Spain, 1936–38: Frank Ryan and the Volunteers from Limerick in the International Brigades (2014)

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/13-books.html

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