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  January 20, 2015

The SYRIZA Challenge in Greece (2/2)

Leo Panitch: Even mainstream economists like Krugman, Piketty and Munchau are saying that SYRIZA is advancing the only rational plan for Greece
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Leo Panitch is the Senior Scholar and Emeritus Professor of Political Science at York University. He is the author of many books, the most recent of which include UK Deutscher Memorial Prize winner The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire, In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives, , Renewing Socialism: Democracy, Strategy and Imagination and The End of Parliamentary Socialism: From New Left to New Labour. He is also a co-editor of the Socialist Register, whose 2017 volume, which will be released in time for the Labour Party Conference and launched in London in November, is entitled Rethinking Revolution


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

I am in conversation with Leo Panitch. In our first segment, we dealt with what a SYRIZA-led government in Greece would mean for the Grecian people in the kind of platform they need to put in place to get Greece out of the financial crisis they're in. Now we're going to talk about the feasibility of it all.

Now joining us to discuss all of this is Leo Panitch. He's coming to us from Toronto. Leo is a distinguished research professor of political science at York University in Toronto. He's the winner of the U.K. Deutscher book prize for The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire. He's also the coeditor of the 2015 volume of the Socialist Register titled Transforming Classes.

Thank you so much for joining us, Leo.


PERIES: Leo, if you were to read the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and even Bloomberg this morning, you would think if SYRIZA were to succeed and come to power, that somehow this would lead to another European and Grecian economic crisis. Is there any truth to this?

PANITCH: Well, they're worried about that, them doing that, in light of the fact that growth rates have tanked in Europe. And there is a danger of deflation in Europe, so they're connecting these as dangers to the market.

Now, it depends [incompr.] the way you're going to look at the world. Are you going to look at the world in terms of the dangers that a democratically elected government poses for capitalists? Or are you going to look at the world in terms of the necessary things that a democratic government should be doing for the majority of people? And you're not seeing the more progressive economists--Krugman or Piketty--saying anything like this, or Walter /muːntʃoʊ/ [Wolfgang Munchau (?)] in The Financial Times. They're saying this is the only rational policy, what Greece is advancing.

Of course the majority of the press, which is simply carrying water for the people who control our economies, the giant corporations and banks and hedge funds and so on, they don't want this to happen. What we are seeing--and I think the people need to get their heads around it--is that this is the first and the strongest democratic response to the austerity and the deepening of neoliberalism, bizarrely, after the 2008 crisis. And if a Democratic government cannot be elected and see through a policy that is not neoliberal austerity, be brought down by the hostility of the domestic capitalist class in Greece working in cahoots with international capital because it's frightened of that example, and that government is not allowed to do what it does, if it's forced to back down and introduce austerity itself, this will be a tragedy for democracy. It'll show to people around the world, and especially now in Europe, where new right parties of a very, very authoritarian and even proto-fascist character are emerging, that the only way they'll be able to break within the logic of neoliberalism is by the right, is by a right-wing nationalist ethnic attempt to protect people. And that--it would be racist, it would be undemocratic, it would be authoritarian. Really what Greece stands for in this context--and the international left had better see it--is what Spain stood for in the early 1930s in electing the Republican government. And insofar as Spain could not stand, then the kinds of governments that stood were those like the Nazis, who people need to remember, were also elected before they took away democracy in Germany.

PERIES: So, Leo, on one hand, of course, the renegotiation of the debt needs to happen, but also a renegotiation of economic relations with the Greek oligarchy should also happen. What could be the SYRIZA platform here?

PANITCH: Well, there, SYRIZA's being very straightforward. And The Financial Times had a big almost full-page story just at the beginning of this week on the oligarchs who control the Greek economy, with photographs of them and the history of them and the extent of their wealth identified. Well, the big and most popular thing that SYRIZA's proposing is to take on the media barons, those families who were often involved in all kinds of other industrial and financial activities, who also control the Greek press, the Greek television, the Greek radio. And it's the case that in Greece, for getting, for instance, a television license fee you pay nothing. You don't pay anything for getting access to what is a public resource, the airwaves.

So SYRIZA has been promising very clearly and very sustainably that they would make these guys pay for the use of this public resource. That's one of the things they're promising. They're promising to really deal with tax evasion in a way that deals with these most wealthy taxpayers. And they say even if they could raise 18 percent of what is not paid in taxes, this would cover a good deal of those initial measures that I was describing that they would take, which would cost them some 11 billion euros. So they are promising to do that.

They're promising to do more, and maybe this is also as important. They're promising to try to do what the European Union says needs to be done to the Greek state, but leaving the old people in charge there, like New Democracy, with its PASOK co-government partners cannot happen. They are promising to deduce honest government to Greece, nonclientalist government to Greece. They will be appointing people who are honest, who've not been part of this patronage network linked to we'll get you so many votes, we'll get you so many jobs if you give us somebody votes, or we'll get you government contracts, or we'll privatize this section of the economy if you give us money to run in our campaign, which is what the what the oligarchs to.

Now, SYRIZA has--never having had a sniff of power and indeed having been grown out of young people who rejected this kind of old politics in the 1990s and in the first decade of the 20th century, 21st century, these people will be appointing people who presumably, hopefully, they will not be producing--appointing any of the old type of people.

Now, that too will be disruptive and it will yield the all kinds of screams and yells. But in fact what they'd be doing is not just changing the capitalist power structure outside the state; they'd be democratizing and rationalizing, producing a more honest state. And we'll have to see if they go through with this, of course.

The opposition will be enormous. The pressure on them will be an ordinance. The lies told about that will be tremendous. And there's no question that once even honest people get inside the state and they see all these enormous forces around them, they sometimes find life easier to go back to the old ways. That could happen. We should be careful to see it doesn't.

One of the things we need to be looking for is how much movement there is from below. Greece was full of demonstrations against this austerity, perhaps the most in the world, for years after it was imposed, and then people finally got tired of being on the street. We'll have to see whether this groundswell of support for series at the polls leads to people once again being in movement, which will be putting pressure on the other side from an elected SYRIZA government to see through at least it's minimal program. And one hopes, because there are people close to Tsipras in the leadership of the party who say they want this, one hopes that they'll be appointing people who will encourage this type of movement from below, who will, from inside the state, try to organize those who are unorganized, who will give a voice to those who haven't had it. They should be seeing that as part of their agenda, even from inside the state. And those will be the measures of whether we actually get the type of government that is needed and that the Greek people deserve.

PERIES: Leo, we'll be following the elections coming up, and I hope you join us when it gets closer to the results.

PANITCH: I look forward to it, Sharmini.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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