Having started my blog in January 2015, my entries have served as a chronicle of my thoughts, hopes and aspirations for Syriza’s government. What had been billed as the ‘first’ left government of Greece (I guess if one does not accept Andrea’s 1981 PASOK as a left win) had a turbulent start and a bad end, for the country, if not for this troupe of horrors.
At the beginning of January, with the election approaching in Greece, it seemed like Syriza could offer the chance to start a rethink of the neoliberal settlement that has dominated European politics for decades. The 2008 crisis had within it the seeds of a challenge to the dominant neoliberal paradigm, alas the challenge was never realised. This period also brought hope that politics could once again retake the ground ceded to technocrats. I had identified in my work a long time ago the danger the retreat of politics in favour of technocracy posed to democracy. An election of a government with an overt political agenda could help (I hoped) to recalibrate the role of politics in economic management; to put the people back in control of fundamental choices as to how their lives are run. I also commented on how salvation from economic crisis in Europe was beginning to look ominously like the creation of a new type of ‘fiscal’ authoritarianism, a ‘dictatorship of finance’. Syriza again was identified as the vehicle to a potential solution, linking popular demands with economic management and reviving democracy in Europe.
I was delighted with Syriza’s win in January and supported Varoufakis in his European tour, where he explained why the existing programme was not working for Greece. My hope was that Europe was ready to make a change. That our partners had realised (perhaps with the exception of the Germans) that non-stop austerity is self-defeating. Perhaps they were waiting for a little push to change their minds, and Varoufakis was offering them this opportunity, for the benefit of all. I was not oblivious to the risks of re-negotiating the bailout deals however. Already at the beginning of February I cautioned Varoufakis and Draghi not to upset Greece’s difficult liquidity environment. Suicide was preventable, a compromise solution was achievable.
My faith in Syriza’s ability to guide the country through this impasse, and achieve a better deal with our creditors than Samaras, Venizelos and everyone prior was shaken by the events following the 20 February agreement. The February agreement seemed like a sensible compromise. It was evident that there was no support for Syriza from anyone, especially the Germans. Too much political capital has been invested in Europe supporting austerity to allow for a change of course. This is regrettable, but nonetheless true. Syriza could have a deal, which was in some aspects better than what was achieved before, but Greece would not be given a ‘good’ deal. The February deal was a step in the right direction in what would clearly be a long road.
What shook me was Varoufakis response. When asked to present a series of technical measures, he submitted a list of odd and in places nonsensical proposals (see here). Was this done due to incompetence or calculation? Either way, it was not good. Varoufakis has claimed in Mason’s grotesque excuse for a documentary (#ThisIsACoup) that he was betrayed by the Eurogroup after February. He seems not to understand what was going on, or his role in things. It all went downhill from there. The negotiations dragged on, the economy stagnated, progress (whatever progress one had seen) was lost. The rhetoric hardened and Tsipras lost his window of opportunity to achieve something better. Faced with double-speak, lack of trust and gimmicks, the Europeans who were not positively inclined to Syriza anyway, and could not politically afford a change of tack, lost interest and started demanding that Greece gets its act together and completes the evaluation of the current programme review in order to receive any money. Varoufakis committed a criminal error in not achieving the disbursement of the bailout tranche after 20 February, leading to a credit crunch that drove us to IMF default in the summer and an internal moratorium on state payments to private parties. It was obvious from the 19 March leader’s meeting that things had gone off the rails (see here).
On 21 April I published my ‘Basta Yani’ piece that asked Syriza to make a deal now. I argued that Syriza was not elected with a mandate to take the country out of the Euro. If a deal that Syriza could live with could not be achieved, then they had a responsibility to resign after signing it and hold an election. This election should be fought on Euro-In/Euro-Out lines so the Greek people got the make the horrible choice that befell them: Capitulate to the demands of the creditors with the hope of a long drawn recovery, or risk return to the drachma in the hope for long drawn recovery. I strongly rejected the idea of a referendum with the rationale that such complex questions need to be the subject of an electoral platform, not an in-out single question on a single ballot (see here). Alas, a referendum did take place in the summer, but on totally bogus grounds.
By mid-May I had totally lost my faith in Syriza. The lack of a clear position, the inability to demonstrate achievable goals for the negotiation, the disorganisation and disinterest in the state of the economy, the lefty fascism of members like Zoi Kostantopoulou, and finally the parading of the holy bones in hospitals proved too much for me. The Greeks had not signed up for Grexit and its consequences when they voted on 25 January. Greeks did get their chance to vote for Grexit, and did so with gusto in the summer in the Greferendum. In this exercise in political fraud Tsipras managed to both kill whatever was left of the economy and to split the country along a new pro/anti Europe divide. Tsipras by announcing the referendum caused the bank-run that was already in process to become a stampede. This necessitated capital controls, not the evil Europeans or the ECB. It is needless to detail the damage to the economy since January, due to the almost total disinterest of the government in things ‘market’ while it was valiantly negotiating with our ‘enemies’. Capital controls helped kill any remaining economic activity. The effect has been a return of the recession, out of which Greece had nominally moved at the end of 2014.
To add insult to the injury of the Greferendum, Tsipras, the ultimate political opportunist, called an election in September to rid the party of the ‘Grexit rebels’ of Lafazanes. ‘Party before Country’ as usual for (ex)communists. Mr Tsipras faced with the disintegration of Syriza after the signing of the third Greek Bailout decided to cause an election by resigning and by refusing to join a different coalition with his remaining Syriza MPs. An election that would have clearly decided the European (or not) trajectory of the country (as mentioned earlier) would have been useful, The September election however was a lost opportunity, as no coalitions emerged in clear support of either position. The new Laiki Enotita ( you have to admire the people who name a party ‘unity’ after splitting from someplace else), KKE and Golden Dawn supported the Drachma, but are nowhere near a united front as you can imagine. This election, as predicted, solved nothing. It renewed the mandate of a band of incompetent populists to talk and talk while the country sinks. Yet again, this is the grandeur of democracy: The people are free to choose their executioner. I pity those who voted for Greece in Europe as a partner, not as a beggar and cheat.
What do we face at the end of the year? We see what happens to a democracy when the country has no functioning government and faces no opposition. After Syriza-lite (sans rebels) won the September election, a strange (albeit predictable) thing happened. All and any opposition to the government dissipated. How is this so, you may ask. Hasn’t Syriza denounced its leftist pretensions, betrayed its programme in favour of a new Bailout? Yes it did, but no one says a word about it. The right (ND and -apologies- PASOK and Potami) with the policy of Euro uber alles cannot complain about attempts to implement the Bailout terms. ND tries some complaining about choices in the consolidation measures, but lacking leadership (especially after the botched internal election) it is becoming irrelevant. The left? Surely if Tsipras moved to the right a gap must have opened on the left? No it didn’t. KKE remains in Stalinist obscurity and the Syriza splinter faction has all but died, as the Greek people are a nation of have-your-pie-and-eat-it that wouldn’t countenance the Grexit they were advocating. As to movements and unions, they have been co-opted by a government that feels no shame encouraging people to join general strikes against it, with the argument that it strengthens its position against the hated creditors with which it is eternally ‘negotiating’. The result is a farcical unopposed governance of stupid stunts (eg. Tsipras tweets) and utter incompetence in every single area of activity. One watches with morbid fascination daily lashings of daliesque surrealism, as if the whole administration were an experimental comedy show worthy of Noel Fielding.
Greece ends 2015 with an incompetent, shambolic ‘party of the people’ that governs only to the extent that it serves its ‘supporters’. It moves from one shameful muddle to another (the sinking of Syriza’s Parallel Programme last week yet another example), and picks fights that serve the Machiavellian machinations of the couch revolutionaries that staff Syriza offices, like asking the IMF to exit the Bailout. 2015 for me represents the death of hope in Greece, in politics, in the Left. I dared hope that Tsipras would bring something new, yet my hope was raped and left for dead by the charming, yet deadly dangerous Professor Varoufakis. I despair.