By capitulating to the EU’s obscenely aggressive debt ‘relief’ package, Tsipras has made an even worse deal than he was offered before, explains ROB GRIFFITHS
THE Grand Old Duke of York may have marched his 10,000 men up the hill pointlessly, but at least he then marched them down again in reasonable order.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has marched his movement and people up the hill and then abandoned them to the vengeance of the Eurogroup of EU finance ministers, the EU Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB).
After all the bluff and bluster, his Syriza government has surrendered its country’s sovereignty to the EU and, behind that, to the banks and multinational corporations.
Now, as the Eurosummit Brussels agreement makes clear, the EU bankers and bureaucrats have every intention of punishing Tsipras, his supporters and Greek electors for voting with a 61 per cent majority against austerity. They are being made the “whipping boy” to discourage any further displays of disobedience.
As well as a battery of measures to raise VAT and pension and other social insurance contributions, “modernise” labour relations law and slash pension entitlements and other social programmes, the EU has been demanding a wide raft of privatisations.
At the Eurogroup talks in Brussels this week, it was agreed that up to €50 billion (£36bn) will be raised from the sale of Greek state assets over three years, which could then be used to fund government spending — including bank recapitalisation and loan repayments.
Greek government negotiators had argued that no more than €17bn (£12bn) could or should be raised in this way.
But the supposedly “hard” or “far” left Syriza government in Athens had already conceded the principle of sweeping privatisation, even before the July 5 referendum.
On June 22, almost a week before the original negotiations with the EU-ECB-IMF troika broke down, Tsipras had written to EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker responding formally to the troika’s final demands.
There, Tsipras proposed a milder austerity programme than that tabled by the troika — and now agreed in Brussels — but capitulated almost completely on the privatisation front.
According to the official English-language text of his letter, “the Greek authorities are committed to approving and proceeding with an ambitious privatisation program.”
This would entail “immediate and irreversible steps” to sell off the regional airports, the Ellinikon international airport, the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, the TrainOSE railway operating company and other state property and land, bringing in €6.3bn (£4.5bn) over the next three years.
Pledges to reform and liberalise the gas and electricity markets, however, fell short of the wholesale privatisation of electricity transmission demanded by the troika and now being imposed by the new agreement. Nor was any explicit mention made ferry services, another item on the troika “summer sale” list and which will now undergo marketisation.
As a result of the Brussels surrender, all of these industries and facilities are likely to end up in the hands of German, French, Belgian, Dutch and other European multinational corporations, with little — if any — of the public stake envisaged in the Tsipras letter.
Whether the state-owned Russian Railways (RZD) will be allowed to proceed with its purchase of TrainOSE and associated operations remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, one way or another one of the chief objectives of austerity in every country will have been achieved in Greece: namely, the transfer of all remaining and potentially profitable industries and services from the public sector to the private sector.
For the Greek people, that will mean higher prices, fresh mass redundancies and the further delay of economic recovery.
That is why opposition to austerity should also explicitly include opposition to privatisation in the same breath — the one is intended to open the way to the other, however concealed that intention may be.
In the case of Greece, not only will state assets be sold off to mostly foreign big business and some of the sales revenue handed to EU member states, the ECB and IMF in loan repayments; the future income stream from Greek ports, railways, airports and electricity will pour into the coffers of multinational corporations.
Even more humiliating, all Greek government fiscal and legslative measures to implement the new Brussels agreement must be approved at the drafting stage by the EU Commission, the ECB or other relevant EU bodies.
Likewise, the country’s public administration will be reformed “under the auspices” of the unelected commission, while the process and proceeds of privatisation will be administered by a Greek fund independent of the government but supervised by EU institutions.
Some Tsipras supporters are claiming that the Eurosummit settlement has successfully averted an attempted EU coup against the Syriza government. One may have been threatened, but has since proved unnecessary as far as the aims of German imperialism and its allies are concerned.
Internally, an already divided Syriza must now seek support for its surrender from New Democracy and Pasok MPs in the Athens parliament.
As these are the very corrupt, pro-austerity and pro-privatisation forces which precipitated the country’s bankruptcy in the first place, they will save Syriza’s skin — and then dump Tsipras and his comrades at the earliest opportunity.
Many Greek people will wonder, rightly, why they were marched up the referendum hill. Perhaps it was merely to strengthen the government’s bargaining hand to boost the bailout bounty to €86bn (£61bn) or, in vain, to achieve a restructuring of the debt or — even more naively — to secure debt relief and an end to austerity.
Yet it should have been clear that no Greek government could hope to escape further austerity and privatisation without rejecting the eurozone and, in all likelihood, EU membership altogether.
It would have to have the option — and the threat — of debt default, currency devaluation, controls on the export of capital and nationalisation of the banking system. Any such strategy would unavoidably have led directly to a struggle for state power against the Greek ruling class and its external Nato allies, requiring the continuous mass mobilisation of the working class and the people generally.
But instead of preparing any of this ground, Syriza engaged in bombastic talk and grand gestures, which turned into wishful thinking and a whining whimper.
Its uncritical cheerleaders in Britain have helped perpetuate the widespread confusion on the left and in the labour movement here about the class character of the EU.
Some cling to the delusion that the EU can be reformed to create a “social Europe,” or transformed through an international revolutionary process into a United Socialist States of Europe. They see Syriza, Podemos in Spain, the Left Bloc in Portugal and similar formations as advance contingents in such a movement, which can be replicated in Britain.
But their ambivalent and even positive attitude to the EU, together with their lack of any coherent political programme for socialist revolution, renders them incapable of representing working-class interests and popular sovereignty.
As Greece demonstrates, they are no substitute for a strong Communist Party: one that’s based on the working class and with a Marxist understanding of the monopoly capitalist character of national state power and the EU.
Rob Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto.