What way out for Greece and the working class in Europe?

By Amalia Loizidou, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales)

On Friday 15 March, 500 people attended a public meeting by Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, organised by Syriza’s London branch. Coming from “a party of hope”, as Tony Benn described Syriza in his read-out welcoming note, Tsipras attracted Greek left people in London as well as activists of the radical left looking for a debate on the way out for Greece and the working masses in Europe. However, Tsipras reserved his radical rhetoric to describe the devastating effects of capitalism in Europe but moved on with vague proposals, not fully satisfying the audience.

Alexis Tsipras started his analysis by stating that Europe is divided between those who fight for justice, equality and freedom and those who promote the neoliberal project. He described the devastating consequences of austerity within Greek economy and society. He explained why the government in Greece and their allies abroad are supporting and implementing such programmes and policies, saying: “They seek the creation of an economic environment based on cheap labour, Special Economic Zones, deregulation of the labour market, tax exemptions for capital, and extensive privatisation of public goods and services… If the debt did not exist, the elites would have to invent it.”

Tsipras described the situation in Greece today in relation to state and police violence, repression of social movements and struggles, and also the far-right.

Way out like Germany 1953?

He continued by outlining his vision of the way out of the crisis. “Syriza argues that an economically viable strategy must follow the model of the 1953 London Debt Agreement, which gave the post-war German economy a kick start and helped it create the ‘economic miracle’ of the post-war era… The central planks of that deal were debt reduction, a huge investment drive through the Marshall Plan, and financing terms linked to export and growth performance.”

This is a way of avoiding the demand of debt cancellation. The situation in Greece in 2013 is not comparable with post-war Germany in 1953. There is no state in the position to implement a Marshall Plan. USA did so then but can’t do it now. Nor do they have the same geo-strategic, ideological and political reasons.

In 1953, major imperialist powers were faced with the powerful, Stalinist Eastern bloc and a radicalised working class, many of whom looked to socialism as an alternative. These conditions do not exist today.

Restore the minimum wage

“Our first priority is to freeze all measures reducing wages and pensions and to restore the minimum wage to pre-Memorandum levels,” said Tsipras.

It is to be welcomed that this point was emphasised, as others in Syriza’s leadership had recently stated that restoration of wage and pension levels will be harder to achieve because the economy is shrinking further.

However, is this demand possible while Greece is crushed by its debt?

A banking sector “devoted to the public interest”

Tsipras outlined: “We will secure the viability of the banking system by introducing social and public control of banks… What we need is a banking system devoted to the public interest – not one bowing to capitalist profit. A banking system at the service of society, a banking system that serves as a pillar for growth.”

There is no mention of the issue of ownership of the banking system or of the basic sectors of economy. Will it continue to be in private hands? If the answer is yes, then they will not be serving society.

A socialist alternative

A number of questions and comments from the floor emphasised the need to break with the framework of capitalism, nationalising the banks under workers’ control and management, and to move forward to a socialist transformation. Unfortunately, Tsipras’ answers were very vague.

During the discussion, the question of Cyprus’s handling of the crisis was raised by a member of the Socialist Party. Tsipras answered: “You cannot have a socialist island in the neoliberal EU. These problems will be the same with/for our next government. That’s why I believe that the solution is to act locally, think globally.” Tsipras has always been positive towards the previous “left” government of Cyprus, despite the cuts that were implemented, as he thinks that they negotiated well with the Troika. As if the debt and this crisis is a matter of good negotiators! Unfortunately, Tsipras used the limits of socialist policies in one small country not to outline how a socialist transformation can be achieved all over the continent and beyond, but to give excuses for the previous AKEL government in Cyprus limiting itself to act within capitalism and its misery. This is the huge danger that a coming Syriza-led government could follow this line.

Syriza is the party that working class people are looking to at this present time as the political alternative to the pro-Troika parties in Greece. The political direction Syriza will take is part of an ongoing battle within the party and the workers’ movement in general.

There are signs of the leadership of Syriza shifting to the right. The leadership of Syriza is desperate to avoid an open clash with Greek big business and the Troika. The practical result of this has been a watering down of some of its more radical positions on the debt and the banking system.

But there is also an attempt by sections of the Left, grouped around the ‘Initiative of 1000’, calling for a united Left, to build a strong, socialist opposition, and to win a future Syriza-led government to implement socialist politics, see http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/6101

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