The transcript of this talk by Aggelos Panayiotopoulos, given at the Left Forum’s event on the 26th of October 2013, was originally published on The Bottom Dog on the 11th of November.
A talk organised by Dublin Left Forum with Helena Sheehan (Left Forum) and Aggelos Panayiotopoulos (The Bottom Dog).
Helena’s talk was based on material already published in ILR (part 1 and part 2)
The Bottom Dog (publication of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions) will be publishing articles related to Greece and the Greek crisis as we believe there are a lot of lessons to be learned for Ireland. In the December issue of the Dog there will be articles about the economic crisis in Greece, the presence of Golden Dawn at the ship construction zone in Perama and their attempt to found a fascist Trade Union, Savas Michael Matsas’ trial and the shift towards fascism in the Greek political and social sphere, as well as the struggle of the ERT staff.
Dimensions of the Greek Crisis
I would like to start by arguing that this crisis needs to be looked at from 3 different levels, that is: the global, the European and the Greek crises and how they feed each other. In that sense we are talking about a crisis, within a crisis, within a crisis.
My second argument is that if we attempt to understand the Greek crisis we should analyse the different dimensions that this entails: the economic, the social and the political dimensions.
By looking at those different levels and dimensions of the crises, the aim is to understand what caused the crisis in Greece, how it affected its people and a response to the crisis which will bring to fore alternative policies and political approaches.
As much as I would like to discuss the first argument I don’t have time to do so. Helena already discussed the systemic nature of the crisis, as well as other people such as Terry McDonough, who put this argument forward in a talk delivered at the Mechanics Institute in Limerick: ‘The six point alternative to austerity: a radical plan on a beermat’. I will instead focus on the dimensions of the Greek crisis.
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This is a sequel to To the crucible: An Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left published on the 21st of January, 2013.
The Dominant Narrative
“Things have gone very quiet in Greece, haven’t they?” So many people said that to me in the past six months or so. I responded that there was a lot going on, even if international media weren’t covering it. There were civil mobilisations of teachers and transport workers, as well as rising unemployment, emigration and impoverishment, being met with continuing protest, strikes, occupations. Even so, I sensed a lull in the rhythm of resistance, since the big demonstrations opposing the passage of the third memorandum last autumn. Obviously people couldn’t keep going at that pitch all the time, but how many were succumbing to exhaustion, despair, defeat? How many were quietly going about their work in solidarity networks, policy development, political education?
The story circulating in May, promoted by its government, was that Greece had stabilised and protest had subsided. Grexit had given way to Grecovery. Antonis Samaras, who was most actively articulating this, touring the world with the good news, even heralded a Greek ‘renaissance’. The feeblest of economic indicators were offered as evidence, although international commentators, even ones who wanted to believe this story, found it hard to get past the fact that most indicators still pointed in the opposite direction. In other statements, Samaras conceded that they hadn’t really changed the numbers yet, but insisted that they had eliminated the ‘negative psychology’.
Many Greeks were scathing, pointing out that tiny shifts from rating agencies and bond yields paled into insignificance aside the continuing freefall of the economy and the still deteriorating conditions of life for non-oligarchic Greeks. Among indicators being trumpeted were lower wages, which might be good news for investors, but hardly for workers. Yanis Varoufakis labelled the Greek success story as the ‘latest Orwellian turn of the Greek crisis’ and laid the economic facts on the line’.
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Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German MEP with the Free Democrats party has announced that he is resigning from German politics because he is “fed up with German hypocrisy”. Chatzimarkakis was born in Germany to Greek migrants and has dual nationality so his actions and comments are particularly directed towards German-Greek relations. The issue of corruption is the one where he sees hypocrisy as most glaring:
“The Germans in their hearts believe it is OK to bribe if it leads to more profit. They have a totally different attitude to corruption as the donor [party]. Many regard themselves as not guilty if they give… The guilty ones are those who take … this is the sort of hypocrisy that I am personally fed up with.”
A recent report entitled Guns, Debt and Corruption: Military Spending and the EU Crisis, authored by Frank Slijper, hones in on one sector where such corruption is endemic. Greece has long had the highest levels of military spending in the EU and Germany has been one of its leading suppliers of military equipment. In 2011, two former managers of the German firm Ferrostaal were convicted in Germany of paying €62 million in bribes in connection with the export of submarines to Portugal and Greece, and Ferrostaal itself was fined €140 million. The former Greek Defence Minister, Akis Tsochzopoulos, along with several others, faces trial in Greece for taking kickbacks on defence contracts, including an alleged €8 million from Ferrostaal.
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The following questions and answers with an audience took place after a talk Alexis Tsipras gave to SYRIZA’s London branch in Friend’s House in Euston on Friday, March 15th. Coverage of the speech itself can be found here. Some of the questions have been condensed to remove lengthy preambles and/or tangents but they remain an accurate reflection of the query posed by the audience member. Rónán Burtenshaw
Q. Could you give us a few reflections on what we can learn from the Left in Latin America and particularly the legacy of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela?
A. That’s a good question because I was in Venezuela a few days ago. What impressed me about my recent visit was the tens of thousands of people waiting patiently to go past the remains of Chávez. They weren’t expressing grief waiting to pay their final respects but they were showing hope, resolution and determination. This signifies that for the last fourteen years this process has been ongoing in Venezuela and is continuing. This shows us that no social transformation or movement can be sustained without popular support. Chávez was accused by his opponents of being a dictator but I have not met many dictators who have won thirteen elections in fourteen years. For us it is clear proof that without popular support it is not possible to carry out these reforms. This is what we can learn from the Latin American experience, and particularly Venezuela.
Q. How can Greece create enough room to manoeuvre at the international level to resist pressure from the creditors, the IMF and the EU and follow a real alternative path to austerity?
A. How will our lenders, creditors and our partners in the European Union be able to answer that question? It would be the first time that they are under this pressure from a government with popular support. How would they deal with this pressure? I am certain that austerity isn’t the way out of this crisis and, in fact, that it is the political aim of those who force it upon us. They are fully aware of that. They want to blackmail people with this enormous debt, which has been worsened by government policy, and by the threat of expulsion from the Euro. The clear aim is to create the conditions where the southern European belt will be a place of cheap labour and favourable conditions for exploitation, and they have been confronted so far with no opposition from any of the governments from the south. Instead what these governments are doing is accepting every absurd measure that’s being proposed to them. But once they have resistance from a government with popular support the balance of fear will change, it would move to the other side of the battlefield.
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This is the first of a two-part on the SYRIZA London event with Alexis Tsipras on March 15th. The second will cover the more discursive question and answer session which followed his speech as well as my own reflections on the ideas and proposals he put forward. Rónán Burtenshaw
Alexis Tsipras arrived in Friend’s Meeting House in Euston on Friday evening for the final leg of a three-day London tour. He used the trip to make connections with the British centre-left establishment – meeting with members of the Labour shadow government, speaking at the London School of Economics (LSE) and doing interviews with Channel Four and the Guardian. Friday was more informal – a public address organised by his SYRIZA party’s London branch in front of a mixed audience, largely made up of British leftists and Greeks, that numbered about a thousand. Tony Benn, the democratic socialist former Labour MP, had been scheduled to introduce Tsipras but was unable to attend for medical reasons. He sent a statement instead, read out by members of the Greek Solidarity Campaign in Britain, which called SYRIZA “the party of hope for Greece and democracy in Europe.”
Tsipras began his speech by framing the European conflict as a battle between neoliberalism and democracy. “Europe is on edge, with two forces colliding. On one side stands the productive forces of democracy, the people fighting to create a society of justice, equality and freedom. And on the other side a neoliberal political project unfolds. Its aim is to control bodies and minds through the politics of fear, to discipline human life in its entirety, to intensify the exploitation of labour and to increase the profits of capital.” SYRIZA, he said, “declare that we are part of the experiment of democracy.”
The struggle for democracy was the central pillar of the speech – its references far outnumbering those of socialism or equality. It was raised as a popular and radical demand, one that would undermine the legitimacy of the established order and halt the advance of neoliberal capitalism. “Syriza believes that radical democratic changes are the only way out of the crisis for the people of Europe. This is not an optimistic illusion. It is the compelling conclusion of rational argument and detailed analysis.”
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A Greek tragedy
A monumental drama is playing out before our eyes. It is a true Greek tragedy. The plot: A society is being pushed to its limits. The denouement is not yet determined, but survival is at stake and prospects are precarious. Greece is at the sharp end of a radical and risky experiment in how far accumulation by dispossession can go, how much expropriation can be endured, how far the state can be subordinated to the market. It is a global narrative, but the story is a few episodes ahead here.
Greece is the crucible.[i] It is a caldron where concentrated forces are colliding in a process that will bring forth either a reconfiguration of capitalism or the dawn of its demise.
Salaries, pensions, public services are falling, while prices and taxes are rising. Massive asset stripping is underway. Water, power, ports, islands, public buildings are for sale. Unemployment, emigration and evictions have brought a sense of a society unraveling. Homeless people wander the streets and scavenge for food in bins or beg it from the plates of those eating in tavernas. If they are immigrants, they are terrorised. Those looking into a horizon without hope either drift into desolation or perform the ultimate decisive act of suicide. Some have done so in private spaces, while others have chosen public places to underline the political nature of their fate, as they jump from heights, set themselves on fire or shoot themselves. In April 2012, Dimitris Christoulas, a retired pharmacist, who felt he could no longer live a dignified life after his pension had been slashed, shot himself in front of parliament. His last words were: “I am not committing suicide. They are killing me.” He urged younger people to fight.
Speaking to Greeks, it is hard to find any without a far reaching systemic critique. They tell you so many details of the deceits of the troika, the corruption of government, the decline in their own standards of living, the pervasive sense of social disintegration. When asked if they see any hope, few answer in the affirmative.
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A call for international solidarity from The Organising Committee of the “19 January – Athens Antifascist City”.
We appeal to the antifascists who have been alerted by the rise of the neonazi Golden Dawn and to those who stand in solidarity with the greek people. Our call for international solidarity has now grown into an international antifascist movement.
Demos outside greek embassies and conculates are now being organised in London (UK), Dublin and Derry (Ireland), Barcelona and Ossona (Catalunya), Lyon (France), Tampere (Finland), Chicago and New York (USA) and news for initiatives in other countries are streaming in.
We ask for more demos in solidarity with the greek movement, that is preparing for a big show of strength in Syntagma Square on the 19th of January. It is not just an international affair, it is part of a concerted effort to build a movement that will target rising fascism and racism in Europe and in the whole world.
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