SYRIZA’s Stability Rocked by New Memorandum (3/3)

Leo Panitch says SYRIZA should prepare for the inevitable Grexit, but it has to factor in geo-political power relations that will get in the way

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries in Athens. I’m talking to Leo Panitch about the recent agreement that had been signed by the Syriza government and the European Union. As you know, Leo Panitch is a regular guest on the Real News Network. He is a political science professor at York University in Toronto, and for the last week he’s been here in Athens.

Leo, thank you so much for joining me again.

LEO PANITCH: Thanks, Sharmini. Good to be here with you.

PERIES: Now Leo, one of the most important statements that Costas Lapavitsas made in his talk that the Real News had published recently from the Democracy Rising conference is that he said that the IMF recognizes that there has to be a huge reduction in the debt, and it has also offered to assist in preparing for exiting the Euro, and that is a tremendous, I think, fig leaf in terms of helping Greece. And also, Schauble, the finance minister of [Greece] has also said that they are prepared to provide humanitarian assistance and technical assistance for exiting the Euro.

Should the Syriza government not be taking up those offers and preparing, in spite of the memorandum?

PANITCH: It would be an interesting alliance, wouldn’t it, between the IMF and Schauble and the most left-wing government that Europe has ever produced. But it’s not impossible to contemplate. And yes, I think they should be open to that were they to get those kinds of offers. In fact, I would be in favor of it.

I think you need to recognize the degree of emotional, almost psychological attachment that very large portions of the Greek population have for Europe, that abstraction. Partly to do with the inferiority complex of the Balkans. Partly having to do with the fact they have a military dictatorship here and they think that might be a protection.

I don’t think this is simply a matter of, again, policy calculations, monetary calculations, et cetera. I do think a significant portion of the working class has always been suspicious of this, which–as I have. I’ve always argued this is not possible within the European Union. I’ve never had these illusions about the European Union being a better variety of capitalism than the free market, North American version. A lot of people here have.

So yes, of course I’d be open to that. I don’t think the alignment of forces in Europe or in the United States are there yet. I don’t think they’re there yet. Not least because they worry about the implications of a Syriza-led government, Greek government, outside of the material base for the American NATO umbrella. The European Union has always been the material base of NATO and of the spy network. The security apparatus network that goes with it.

Churchill made his stand, created his iron curtain, right here where we’re standing. The Marshall Plan was introduced. It was triggered by what would be the outcome of the Greek civil war. The Americans took over the British responsibility for policing the Eastern Mediterranean. Given what is going on right now in Odessa, given what is going on right now in the Libyan Sea, what games do people think are being played here?

So yes, I think there’s a fight in Washington over whether it’s a matter that the U.S. Treasury can resolve or whether it’s a matter the CIA is going to resolve. These are the kinds of things that has to be in the minds of any government here, which is contemplating these things.

And I’m astonished at the Western left, which is presumably so aware of power relations in the world discussing these things as though Stiglitz or Krugman or Lapavitsas have the right policy. Of course it’s politics.

PERIES: I don’t think it’s fair for you to put Lapavitsas in the same plane as Krugman and Stiglitz. He is actually a sitting MP of the Syriza government.

PANITCH: Yes, but the, the argument is being made at the level of we have a plan, and this plan can work, without the political conditions for the success of that plan being discussed. Being addressed. Without the membership, its capacity for class struggle, being developed in relation to those political conditions. Their capacity is only being developed in terms of some technical arguments around what would an exchange rate be? What would happen if we controlled and remade the banking system? Without asking, well, what if we haven’t yet remade the judicial system? What are the implications of how those things correlate?

That banking system will not have any reserves. It’s true the IMF has had the only plan, and it’s had it since 2011, on converting back to the drachma. That’s what the IMF does. That’s what their expertise is. They have an interest in doing it because of all the contracts that are now in Euros that are linked to an economy in which merchant trade and the distribution of goods are very important for the rest of Europe, and arguably beyond. So of course they have to be concerned with that. It’s not inconceivable that they could facilitate this.

But it’s not being presented by the Left Platform that way. It’s being presented as though there’s a magic bullet here. Without–a country with no foreign reserves, you would require the introduction of rationing. Is that being said? You would have to have rationing of certain goods that you absolutely have to have for this economy to function at all. In a society like this where there’s already a massive gray market, what would be the black market consequences of that rationing?

You need to address that–I’m not saying you should not do it. At some point it’s probably going to be necessary. But you need–people are not stupid. As I said, there’s an emotional attachment to Europe, but they’re also aware of the forces in the society which represent the black market, the gray market. They’re all over the–almost every society and they’re all over this one. So unless they have the confidence that the type of honest, dignified, sharing arrangements that you find in these massive numbers of solidarity clinics and food distribution [inaud.] and so on, which are de-commodifying, not operating through the gray market, not operating through the black market. That that would trump that.

This is a hard transition to even talk about unless you do that. And I have to tell you that the Left Platform has less respect from the most politicized activists in the solidarity network than almost any other branch of Syriza. They see it as top-down politics. Old-fashioned, top-down–now, they are more committed to getting out of capitalism, certainly, than are wide swathes of the leadership. They are more committed to class struggle than are many, many members of the government who are looking for an alliance with the bourgeoisie, of course. Yes, but–.

PERIES: But at this moment what they’re calling for is a respect of the referendum outcome.

PANITCH: Sharmini, that referendum was a referendum call, like a strike vote, yes. It was, give us the authority to go back and say–for bargaining–and say that the people supported us. They want to interpret it that way against all of the evidence of the opinion polls. That people were trying to vote–and it’s, of course people vote that way. They vote both to have this and that. That’s how people vote. That’s why they vote for parties that offer this and that at the same time. And that happened again.

The fact that they have such confidence in Syriza was remarkable, right. They were essentially giving a vote of trust to a leadership which yes, has been committed, I think wrongly, to being able to make this change inside Europe. But let’s face it. Had there not been that assumption, Syriza never would have been elected. The parties that were calling for a break at their maximum couldn’t get beyond the communist party 5 percent ghetto. At a minimum couldn’t get 1 percent of the vote.

So I mean, let’s get real here. And to simply say the memorandum ties your hands, et cetera, the Greek state ties your hands. The way you’re integrated into capitalism ties your hands. The memorandum is a legal document behind that, and it’s moreover one in which every country in the world negotiates spaces. The IMF and the World Bank are constantly saying there’s no point of having this agreement if the government doesn’t own it. They don’t think this government’s going to be able to own it. So why should the left be speaking as though it’s going to own it?

I’m not saying there aren’t people in the government who will try to own it. But then you need to be taking them on. You need to be trying to show there are ways to get past this, even within the framework of this agreement. To find loopholes. As I said, to, as any lawyer would tell you in the context of a collective agreement, to just bugger up the system with a million grievances.

PERIES: Leo Panitch, we always appreciate your ability to give us some analysis of what’s going on in the moment. Thank you.

PANITCH: Thanks, Sharmini.

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

End

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