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Leo Panitch says the latest memorandum is a shell game

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Athens. We are in front of the Syriza headquarters, coalition of the radical left, who has recently signed on to another memorandum with the European Union in order to address the debt crisis. And this was passed in parliament just days ago, and I’m here with Leo Panitch, our regular guest on the Real News Network. He’s a professor of political science at York University and he’s been here with us for the last week talking to people and academics, activists, and members of Syriza. Leo, thank you so much for joining me again. LEO PANITCH: Hi, Sharmini. PERIES: So Leo, in the earlier segment we were talking about ways in which the Syriza government, although this is seen as a difficult time for Syriza, and they have signed on to the memorandum. But most people are, actually even Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister, has come out and said that this is not an agreement that Syriza can actually deliver on. PANITCH: Yes. [Just as] every previous government couldn’t deliver on the memorandum, right. Of course it’s impossible, and they know it’s impossible. So I think one has to expect that they signed in order to get some breathing room, and they won’t be able to deliver on it. They’ll pass some of the legislation in order–as they passed the legislation last week and got in return the 7 billion that allowed them to pay back the 7 billion. The whole thing’s a shell game, and they need to play it like a shell game. Now, I think a lot of people in the party worry that these guys don’t have the capacity to play it like a shell game. I worry even more that people down at the base, maybe above all the Left Platform, don’t have the kinds of roots in the base to be able to explain to people the nature of the shell game, to give them confidence that it can be played. What they’ve got is a plan, a top-down plan which they tell people, all we have to do is introduce this. Introduce this in this state, in this unreconstructed clientelist state. Introduce it in the state in which the police, the security apparatuses are probably not even controlled by this government. It involves an assumption, a very naïve one for Marxists, which these guys claim to be, that you elect the government and then it uses the state in a unified way as its weapon. No, you need time to transform the state. You need to figure out ways to do it. I think they suspect that this leadership who they think are soft, et cetera, in the old communist tradition, right. If you’re not in the disciplined, Trotskyist tradition, right, then you’re soft. And they think they don’t have the capacity to do that. They may be right. But that’s the real question. It’s not about will the Troika let you do this or that. And you say no, they won’t. Well, then you think they’re going to let you make a revolution? I mean, really. The debate needs to be transcended. The best thing would be, if Tsipras could do it, for him to stand up and make a speech to the central committee and through them to the party membership which says we are going to find creative and inventive ways which the imperial accountants who are going to show up here are not going to be able to say get in the way of the budget. PERIES: But Leo, he’s clearly not saying that. He’s at this moment not–. PANITCH: And is anybody from the Left Platform saying that? I mean, that’s the problem. We need to transcend that debate. That’s the problem. I don’t say he is saying it. If he won’t say it then at least the general secretary of the party needs to say it. But someone needs to move on because all we’re getting now is recriminations. The Left Platform knows that this leadership will not adopt that program. And I think they have good reasons not to, as [those] bad ones. Because as I’ve said on the Real News for how many years now this leadership will never go further than the Europeans will let them. That’s a mistake. There is no way forward without getting out of the European Union and then reconstructing a Europe on the basis of new types of socialist alliances. That’s true, right. They need to learn that. But there is no magic bullet here that is in somebody’s back pocket in this plan that the Left Platform thinks it has. PERIES: Okay, let’s unpack that a bit because that is leading to a great deal of tension and division within the Syriza party. And instead of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reaching out to the diversity and divergent opinions in his own party he’s actually shifting further into a neoliberal political landscape within parliament, because that’s where he can get support. And the recent shift in the cabinet itself is reflective of that. PANITCH: I don’t know that that’s true. This is what the Left Platform is telling you. You don’t know any more that’s true than I do. I’ve heard other people say that ideologically in fact what’s remarkable about this is how little it shifts anything ideologically. I certainly hope that this won’t–this stand, this division in the party won’t lead to socialist elements in it being marginalized. Of course I hope that. That would be the worst thing. But it takes two to tango, and he Left Platform should be trying to come up with some ways to create something creative out of this. Look. Since we’re talking mainly to an international audience, yes, you could see if you were of a certain type of historical tendency rooted in the Russian revolution, you could see Tsipras as Karensky, yes. And what you were expecting is that support will melt away for this bourgeois democrat who is trying to get rid of the monarchy and establish a responsible government. But you are the real revolutionaries, right. And I think there is a bit of a attempt in going on here for years. We’re not able to get more than 1 percent of the vote, and [tarsia] proves it, getting out of Europe. The communist party isn’t able to move outside of its ghetto by saying we reject all of Europe. So then you have a party which appeals to people by saying we will bargain as hard as we can–because you want to stay in Europe, we will bargain as hard as we can to do that. Yes, they’re trying to square the circle. It’s not possible. What they are hoping is to be able to wipe away this Karensky on a sweep of popular power that is suddenly going to put them in place. That’s not happening because their biggest asset is Tsipras. And two, as was shown in the poll that was released yesterday 66 percent of those who voted oxhi want to stay in Europe. Let’s say that their only asset for winning popular support–. PERIES: Who did this poll? PANITCH: It was a very reputable poll. A very reputable poll. In fact, you should go see it. It shows that Syriza has a 21 percent lead over New Democracy. It would get 164 seats in parliament. It’s remarkable that the international media haven’t picked up on this. But that’s–the only person who could persuade people to go out would be Tsipras. And even if he went on now on a big campaign, what would he get, a small majority to be prepared to go out. The other problem is–. PERIES: But I think the people of Greece, when they would have voted for the referendum, they knew that the outcome of that, saying no, is an exit on the Euro. Isn’t that the ultimate poll? PANITCH: No. I don’t know how you could possibly say that. I mean, you may want to criticize the Syriza leadership for telling that wasn’t the case. But of course not, how can you say that, in fact, every poll showed at the time and the whole campaign was run on even though they’re trying to scare you that isn’t true. And not even the Left Platform has the courage to say it means–it would mean getting out of the European Union. Even they don’t have the courage to say that, which it would have to mean. Because they couldn’t convert the economy without getting out of the European Union. It would be a stopgap. So everybody recognizes that people are incredibly torn over this. It would be possible to win them, I think. But you’d have to win them after a period of showing that you could transform the state. You’d have a social base for this. There would be alternative ways of production. PERIES: That all requires money. And according to the current referendum and servicing that debt means that all of the revenue–. PANITCH: Sharmini, what are you saying, that they won’t let you do these things I’m saying, use army trucks to distribute food, yes? Or even find loopholes to the agreement. But they will let you make a revolution–. PERIES: You still have to buy the food to distribute it. PANITCH: So they’ll send in the troops. The point is we’re dealing with power, here. Not some notion of what room do you have for legislation. If it isn’t settled by the American treasury forcing the Germans to give you more space as you press, to give you that 30-year moratorium. This story’s not over in that respect. Then it won’t be the American treasury, it’ll be the CIA here, insofar as you become dependent on some sort of external support. I mean, we’re playing at the highest stakes. And this negativity in terms of you won’t be able to do anything, and then to imply you’ll be able to do the biggest thing with anybody opposing you, it’s not serious. It’s just not serious. PERIES: Okay. So here the biggest thing is exiting the Euro. Now, while–you are saying here there’s ways in which the Syriza government could stimulate the economy in spite of what’s–. PANITCH: No, I’m not saying that. I think there’s no easy way out of this. I’m not saying, as Stiglitz would say, let’s stimulate the economy with this policy or that policy. Greece is trapped in a deep, deep contradiction of networked, international capitalism, which Stiglitz with his policy notions doesn’t even begin to capture. I’m saying that Syriza can find loopholes, avenues, with which–both ideologically to give people courage, and as they have always said they would do, offset the costs so that those who suffer most would not bear them. So take the solidarity networks, take the fact that people now need to pay 2 percent more on food and VAT, and take those poorest people and get them access to food, if not free than at a minimum price. You were in Venezuela, Sharmini, you saw that the army could be mobilized to do that kind of thing. It doesn’t cost anything. You’re paying them anyway. PERIES: Venezuela had oil. Venezuela had–. PANITCH: I’m not talking about the oil. I’m talking about the use of the resources you’ve got–. PERIES: I’m saying that the Venezuelan government had the resources to be able to mobilize within the state and stimulate the economy, and provide [inaud.] PANITCH: You’re making my point all the more. And any notion that you’re going to walk out of this by simply rejecting the agreement in a country that doesn’t have these resources, that you’re going to pretend that by producing a piece of paper that you are going to then be able to manage the enormous problems in a way that will help the poorest people quickly rather than make it worse? I mean, I just don’t think it’s–we need to find within this power, set of power relations, this government needs to be able, it may not be able, to make linkages with the social movements of a kind that materially benefit people, even within the framework of the limitations on them. The story’s not over. In three months of they do that they might have a better basis for saying we can’t–or the others might kick them out again. This is how the thing needs to be looked at, not in terms of we’ve got some magic bullet that the state could be implementing at no cost. PERIES: Leo, let’s get into the crux of the finances here. Let’s put away some of the political aspects of it. And give me your prognosis for the Greek economy in the coming months. PANITCH: Well, I think unless there is a game of bluff going on, which is often played in these kinds of power poker games, unless the Americans through the IMF do force them to do something on an immediate moratorium on debt so that–and so that some of that 85 billion is transferred and is not used to simply pay back the debt, the privatizations aren’t going to take place for years in any way that will be useful. I think the situation will be very difficult here. No one would deny, and the Left Platform doesn’t, it’s leading platform on this doesn’t, that things would even be much tougher over the next three months if you try to transit out of the currency. And what would happen is in that context people who might barely support this in three months [inaud.] I mean, this is actually what happened in Russia in [1917-18]. And what they did, wrongly I think, was they banned opposition parties because they were losing the working class support that they had in the face of the difficulties. So these are very high stakes. This is not a matter of Stiglitz on policy or Lapavitsas on policy. He really–we’re talking about the question of power relations inside this country and there’s nothing–and outside. There is no policy to discuss that doesn’t involve politics. That doesn’t involve power. That doesn’t involve class struggle. People like Lapavitsas and Krugman, et cetera, who think in policy terms–this is the sickness of the economists–think in policy terms rather than political terms, are not useful in a context like this. PERIES: Leo, we always appreciate you being able to do this kind of analysis in the moment as the issues are evolving. Thank you so much for joining us today. PANITCH: Thanks, Sharmini. Glad to be here. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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