Where are we going after the agreement?

March 10, 2015

The austerity agreement with the Eurogroup negotiated by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was hotly debated at a Central Committee meeting of the Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, convened at the end of February. An amendment opposing the agreement as a retreat from SYRIZA's commitment to reverse the austerity agenda contained in the Memorandums signed by previous governments was defeated, but by a narrow margin, with a number of supporters of Tsipras' majority current within SYRIZA supporting the position of the Left Platform.

Antonis Davanellos, a member of the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), one of the co-founding organizations of SYRIZA 10 years ago, and now a Central Committee member and leading figure in the Left Platform, wrote this article for DEA's newspaper Workers' Left to make the case for what comes next for the struggle against austerity and the battle within SYRIZA after the critical Central Committee meeting.

THE LAST meeting of the Central Committee of SYRIZA showed what type of party SYRIZA is. It is a broad network of political activists with all of the resistance struggles against austerity of recent years running through it. It is a party marked by a transitional approach [in a situation that is not revolutionary] that seeks social and political victories. It is a party whose "base," the vast majority of its membership, is committed to achieving its demands for democracy and paving the way for the complete socialist liberation of society.

Such a party must not allow itself to be converted into a tool to carry out austerity policies, under any pretext, even in dire circumstances.

During the Eurogroup negotiations in February, the SYRIZA-led government encountered a double trap set for it through the conscious actions of the defeated coalition government of [Antonis Samaras' center-right New Democracy and Evangelos Venizelos' center-left PASOK]--but especially the European "institutions" of the European Union and the European Central Bank, in tandem with the International Monetary Fund.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis

Even before the new government took over the ministries, before it had acquired the slightest experience of governing, before it had restored a modicum of control over mechanisms of the state, it was confronted with two dangerous challenges: On the one hand, the possibility of an immediate collapse of the banks [through a massive outflow of capital]. And on the other, a great difficulty in obtaining funds to finance--simultaneously!--the repayment of debt, as well as wages for public workers, pensions and minimal social spending.

Faced with this two-pronged threat, the government retreated. There is no room for sugarcoating the February agreement and the list of measures that Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis promised to carry out. If the government chooses--or is forced--to honor this agreement, it will have renounced its commitment to overturn austerity. The same thing will happen to SYRIZA as a party if it is asked to politically defend and justify the bitter contents of this agreement among the people.

As Costas Lapavitsas correctly pointed out in his article in the Guardian, the trap set for the government in February is not temporary. The "institutions" (the EU, ECB and IMF) have structured the agreement so that the government will constantly face the same dilemmas. The government's actions will have to confirm its retreat as each week goes by, until June, when it will face the same drastic "choice": bankruptcy or a new Memorandum?

The actions of the government clarify a contradiction in the commitments made by SYRIZA leaders during the election. On the one hand, there was a sincere commitment to the promise to reverse austerity. On the other hand, they promised that this could happen smoothly and without instability, within the framework of the eurozone. The second part of the SYRIZA leadership's election rhetoric now appears unrealistic and even utopian.

It is important to emphasize that the consequences of the government's decisions will not be limited to socio-economic policy--they will directly affect the government and the political system at all levels. The fundamental question is: Who will exercise authority under this government, and in alliance with what other individuals and political forces? A consolidation of the retreat of last month and further steps toward a permanent agreement with the "institutions" will inevitably, in more or less short order, pave the way toward a government of national unity in some form. This would be the definitive defeat of the political project, put forward at the founding congress of SYRIZA, of establishing "government of the left."

THIS MUST be prevented. The task of preventing it lies, of course, with the party of SYRIZA, including its members in different areas of the new government. We must find the strength and the means to disobey the requirements of the Eurogroup agreement--to reverse it in practice and implement policies against austerity, finding alternative solutions to the financial questions and all the other restrictions imposed by the European elite.

Answering this difficult problem will require looking to other aspects of the program put forward at SYRIZA's July 2013 conference--the demand that a majority of the debt be canceled and that Greece no longer endure any sacrifices for the euro, the commitment to pursue the reversal of austerity by any means necessary.

The task of preventing a further retreat also lies with the left outside SYRIZA, which still has considerable strength in Greece. It can challenge the government by putting forward demands on wages, retirement pensions, education and health care, but also by showing in practice that there is another option for dealing with the lenders other than capitulation. This political relationship with the "other left"--the only viable and principled political alliance for SYRIZA in today's circumstances--must be systematically and consciously encouraged by SYRIZA.

The task also falls on the international left, especially the European left. In Spain, France and Italy, and even in Germany itself, supporters of democracy and justice must take action to prevent the "institutions" from strangling and overthrowing the government in Greece. These actions, too, should be put forward and supported by SYRIZA itself, which currently enjoys significant international support.

The coming weeks--at most, the coming months--will determine whether the first attempt to reverse the austerity of a neoliberal Europe can survive.

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