Empire, Power & People with Andrew Gavin Marshall- Episode 143

German Economics & Syriza's Dismal Options

Building on the previous podcast's discussion of Greece and Europe's crisis, this episode examines German economic orthodoxy, known as Ordoliberalism, and the effects this has on German policy and strategy, as well as that of the European Central Bank. In addition, this episode examines the context of Syriza's decision to capitulate to Germany and the Troika in negotiations over a third bailout. What are Syriza's options to get out of this mess?

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Empire, Power & People with Andrew Gavin Marshall- Episode 142

Europe's Strategy to Topple Syriza

The anti-austerity Greek government of Syriza has signed on to the most invasive and harsh agreement of any Greek government to date: more austerity, more 'reform', and more control over Greece to its bailout creditors in Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels and Washington. Greece is an occupied country that has been attempting to negotiate the terms of its liberation with the occupying powers. It has thus far failed. But this was the strategy of Germany and Europe all along: to sustain the crisis, increase the pressure, and gain the upper hand. Ideally, for Germany and the EU, the new agreement with Syriza would lead to a schism in the party and result in a collapse of the government, with elections bringing to power a puppet government that Europe would happily deal with. Until then, the strategy remains the same: increase the tension, increase the chances for regime change. This is what it means to live in a German dominated Europe.

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Syriza: Plunder, Pillage & Prostration

How the ‘Hard Left’ embraces the policies of the Hard Right

Greece has been in the headlines of the world’s financial press for the past five months, as a newly elected leftist party, ‘Syriza’, which ostensibly opposes so-called ‘austerity measures’, faces off against the “Troika” (International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and European Central Bank).

Early on, the Syriza leadership, headed by Alexis Tsipras, adopted several strategic positions with fatal consequences - in terms of implementing their electoral promises to raise living standards, end vassalage to the ‘Troika’ and pursue an independent foreign policy.

We will proceed by outlining the initial systemic failures of Syriza and the subsequent concessions further eroding Greek living standards and deepening Greece’s role as an active collaborator of US and Israeli imperialism.

Winning Elections & Surrendering Power

The North American and European Left celebrated Syriza’s election victory as a break with neo-liberal austerity programs and the launch of a radical alternative, which would implement popular initiatives for basic social changes, including measures generating employment, restoring pensions, reversing privatizations, reordering government priorities and favoring payments to employees over foreign banks. The “evidence” for the radical reform agenda was contained in the ‘Thessaloniki Manifesto’ which Syriza promised to be the program guiding their newly elected officials.

However, prior to, and immediately after being elected, Syriza leaders adopted three basic decisions precluding any basic changes: Indeed, these decisions set it on a reactionary course.

First and foremost, Syriza accepted as legitimate the foreign debt of over $350 billion dollars, although most had been signed by previous government Kleptocrats, corrupt banks, business, real estate and financial interests. Virtually none of this debt was used to finance productive activity or vital services which would strengthen the economy and Greece’s future ability to payback the loans.

Hundreds of billions of Euros were stashed away in foreign bank accounts and foreign real estate or invested in overseas stocks and bonds. After affirming the ‘legitimacy’ of the illicit debt, Syriza followed up by declaring its ‘willingness’ to pay the debt. The ‘Troika’ immediately understood that the new Syriza government would be a willing hostage to further coercion, blackmail and debt payments.

Secondly, and related to the above, Syriza declared its determination to remain in the European Union and Eurozone and thus accepted the surrender of its sovereignty and ability to fashion an independent policy. It declared its willingness to submit to the dictates of the Troika. Once under the thumb of the Troika, Syriza’s only policy would be to ‘negotiate’, ‘renegotiate’ and make further concessions to the EU overseas banks in a totally one-sided process. Syriza’s rapid submission to the Troika was their second strategic, but not their last, betrayal of its electoral program.

Once Syriza demonstrated to the Troika, its willingness to betray its popular program, the Troika escalated its demands and hardened its intransigence. Brussels discounted Syriza’s leftist rhetoric and radical theatrical gestures as blowing smoke in the eyes of the Greek electorate. The EU bankers knew that when it came time to negotiate new loan agreements, the Syriza leadership would capitulate. Meanwhile, the Euro-American Left swallowed Syriza’s entire radical rhetoric without looking at its actual practice.

Thirdly, on taking office, Syriza negotiated a coalition with the far-right, pro-NATO, xenophobic, anti-immigrant Independent Greeks Party, guaranteeing that Greece would continue to support NATO’s military policies in the Middle East, the Ukraine and Israel’s brutal campaign against Palestine.

Fourthly, the bulk of Prime Minister Tsipras cabinet appointees had no experience of class struggle .Worse still, most were academics and former PASOK advisers without any capacity or willingness to break with the dictates of the Troika. Their academic ‘practice’ consisted largely of theoretical ‘combat’, ill-suited for real-world confrontation with aggressive imperial powers.

From a Scratch to Gangrene

By capitulating to the EU from the outset, including accepting to pay the illegitimate debt, hooking up with the Far Right and submitting to the dictates of the Troika, the stage was set for SYRIZA to betray all its promises and to worsen the economic burden for its supporters. The worst betrayals include: (1) not restoring pension payments; (2) not restoring the minimum wage; (3) not reversing privatizations; (4) not ending austerity programs; and (5) not increasing funds for education, health, housing and local development.

The Troika and its publicists in the financial press are demanding that Syriza cut the Greek pension system even further ,impoverishing over 1.5 million retired workers. Contrary to the media’s planted ‘examples’ of fat pensions enjoyed by less then 5% of pensioners, the Greeks have suffered the deepest pension reductions in Europe over the past century. In just the last past 4 years the Troika cut Greek pensions eight times. The vast majority of pensions have been slashed by nearly 50% since 2010.The average pension is 700 Euros a month but 45%of Greek pensioners receive less than 665 Euros a month - below the poverty line. Yet the Troika demands even greater reductions. These include an end of budget subsidies for pensioners living in extreme poverty, an increase in the retirement age to 67, an abolition of pension provisions tied to hazardous occupations and for working mothers. The earlier regressive measures, imposed by the Troika and implemented by the previous right-wing coalition regime, severely depleted the Greek pension fund. In 2012, the Troika’s ‘debt restructuring’ program led to the loss of 25 billion Euros of reserves held by the Greek government in government bonds. Troika austerity policies ensured that the pension reserves would not be replenished. Contributions plummeted as unemployment soared to nearly 30% (Financial Times 6/5/15 p4). Despite the Troika’s frontal assault on the Greek pension system, Syriza’s “economic team” expressed its willingness to raise the retirement age, cut pensions by 5% and negotiate further betrayals of pensioners facing destitution. Syriza has not only failed to fulfill its campaign promise to reverse the previous regressive policies, but is engaged in its own ‘pragmatic’ sellouts with the Troika.

Worse still, Syriza has deepened and extended the policies of its reactionary predecessors. (1)Syriza promised to freeze privatizations: Now it vows to extend them by 3.2 billion Euros and privatize new public sectors. (2) Syriza has agreed to shift scarce public resources to the military, including an investment of $500 million Euros to upgrade the Greek Air Force. (3) Syriza plundered the national pension fund and municipal treasuries of over a billion Euros to meet debt payments to the Troika. (4) Syriza is cutting public investments in job creating infrastructure projects to meet Troika deadlines. ( 5) Syriza has agreed to a budget surplus of 0.6% at a time when Greece is running a 0.7% deficit this year - meaning more cuts later this year. (6) Syriza promised to reduce the VAT on essentials like food; now it accepts a 23% rate.

Syriza’s foreign policy mimics its predecessors. Syriza’s far right Defense Minister, Panos Kammenos, has been a vocal supporter of the US and EU sanctions against Russia- despite the usual flurry of Syriza’s faked “dissent” to NATO policies, followed by total capitulation – to remain in good standing with NATO. The Syriza regime has allowed each and every well-known kleptocrat and tax evader to retain their illicit wealth and to add to their overseas holdings with massive transfers of their current ‘savings’ out of the country. By the end of May 2015, Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Varofakis have emptied the Treasury to meet debt payments, increasing the prospects that pensioners and public sector workers will not receive their benefits. Having emptied the Greek Treasury, Syriza will now impose the “Troika solution” on the backs of the impoverished Greek masses: either sign-off on a new “austerity” plan, lowering pensions, increasing retirement age, eliminating labor laws protecting workers’ job security and negotiating rights or face an empty treasury, no pensions, rising unemployment and deepening economic depression. Syriza has deliberately emptied the Treasury, plundered pension funds and local municipal holdings in order to blackmail the population to accept as a ‘fait accompli’ the regressive policies of hardline EU bankers – the so-called “austerity programs”.

From the very beginning, Syriza gave into the Troika’s dictates, even as they play-acted their ‘principled resistance’. First they lied to the Greek public, calling the Troika ‘international partners’. Then they lied again calling the Troika memorandum for greater austerity a ‘negotiating document’. Syriza’s deceptions were meant to hide their continuation of the highly unpopular ‘framework’ imposed by the previous discredited hard rightwing regime.

As Syriza plundered the country of resources to pay the bankers, it escalated its international groveling. Its Defense Minister offered new military bases for NATO, including an air-maritime base on the Greek island of Karpathos. Syriza escalated Greece’s political and military support for EU and US military intervention and support of “moderate” terrorists in the Middle East, ludicrously in the name of “protecting Christians”. Syriza, currying favor with European and US Zionists, strengthened its ties with Israel, evoking a ‘strategic alliance’ with the terrorist-apartheid state. From his first days in office, the hard right Defense Minister Kammenos proposed the creation of a “common defense space” including Cyprus and Israel – thus supporting Israel’s air and sea blockade of Gaza.

Conclusion

Syriza’s political decision to ‘embed’ in the EU and the Eurozone, at all costs, signals that Greece will continue to be vassal state, betraying its program and adopting deeply reactionary policies, even while trumpeting its phony leftist rhetoric, and feigning ‘resistance’ to the Troika. Despite the fact that Syriza plundered domestic pensions and local treasuries, many deluded Leftists in Europe and the US continue to accept and rationalize what they choose to dub its “realistic and pragmatic compromises”.

Syriza could have confiscated and used the $32 billion of real estate properties owned by the Greek Armed Forces to implement an alternative investment and development plan – leasing these properties for commercial maritime ports, airports and tourist facilities.

Syriza buried Greece even deeper into the hierarchy dominated by German finance,by surrendering its sovereign power to impose a debt moratorium, leave the Eurozone, husband its financial resources, reinstate a national currency, impose capital controls, confiscate billions of Euros in illicit overseas accounts, mobilize local funds to finance economic recovery and reactivate the public and private sector. The fake “Left sector” within Syriza repeatedly mouthed impotent “objections”, while the Tsipras -Varofakis sell-out charade proceeded to the ultimate capitulation.

In the end, Syriza has deepened poverty and unemployment, increased foreign control over the economy, further eroded the public sector, facilitated the firing of workers and slashed severance pay- while increasing the role of the Greek military by deepening its ties to NATO and Israel.

Equally important, Syriza has totally emptied leftist phraseology of any cognitive meaning: for them - national sovereignty is translated into international vassalage and anti-austerity becomes pragmatic capitulations to new austerity. When the Tsipras – Troika agreement is finally signed and the terrible toll of austerity for the next decades finally sinks into the consciousness of the Greek public, the betrayals will hopefully evoke mass revulsion. Perhaps Syriza will split, and the “left” will finally abandon their cushy Cabinet posts and join the disaffected millions in forming an alternative Party.

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Professor James Petras, Boiling Frogs Post contributing analyst, is the author of more than 62 books published in 29 languages, and over 600 articles in professional journals, including the American Sociological Review, British Journal of Sociology, Social Research, and Journal of Peasant Studies. He has a long history of commitment to social justice, working in particular with the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement for 11 years. He writes a monthly column for the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, and previously, for the Spanish daily, El Mundo. Dr. Petras received his B.A. from Boston University and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. You can visit his website here.

BFP Exclusive – The Balkans Elections Update: Croatia & Greece

The genie of political anti-imperialist rebellion in Europe is out of the bottle & cannot be repressed

Last month I wrote a BFP exclusive report on the upcoming presidential elections in Croatia and Greece. I claimed that in each of these elections there were political candidates and options taking a clear stand of resistance to the hegemonic US-NATO Empire in the Balkans. I predicted that these forces will gain significant political support and suggested that this should be interpreted as a sign of the weakening of the Empire's hold on the region.

Now, more than a month later, it is time to examine the actual election results and discuss their importance for the future course of action both by the forces supporting the Empire and those opposed to it.

Croatia

As predicted, the Croatian presidential elections was not decided in the first round of voting on December 28. Neither of the four candidates - the incumbent Ivo Josipović and three challengers Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Milan Kujundžić, and Ivan Vilibor Sinčić - received the necessary 50% of the vote to win outright. The two highest placed candidates, Ivo Josipović with 38.5% of the vote and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović with 37% of the vote, went into the runoff scheduled for January 11. The readers will recall that I characterized Grabar-Kitarović as the Empire's favorite. She is a former Croatian foreign minister and ambassador to the US, former NATO Assistant Secretary General and a member of the Trilateral Commision.

This outcome has been expected and is nothing to write home about. However, the result of Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, the representative of the anti-imperialist organization "Živi zid", whom I had described in my previous report as the most progressive and humanist candidate, positively surprised even the most optimistic observers (including myself). Even though most pre-election opinion polls had predicted that he would receive no more than 10% of the vote (and some even put his support below 5%), Sinčić got the amazing16.5%.[i]

This means that a sizable portion of the Croatian citizens share his goal of resistance to the US-NATO Empire's control and its neoliberal policy goals. In a Balkan country that, in addition to Albania and the status problematic Kosovo, is the most beholden to the Empire due to its financial, military and media assistance in the war for independence, including the persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Serbian minority in the Gladio-type Operation "Storm" in 1995, this is a fantastic result.

It is clear that Sinčić and the political organization he leads have an excellent head-start for the next parliamentary elections. There is little doubt that they may have close to one fifth of the parliamentary deputies and hence a great chance to be represented at the ministerial level in any future government. In this way, the anti-imperialist discourse will become a part of the Croatian political mainstream, and the calls for the Croatia's exit from NATO will be more and more prominent in the public sphere.

Sinčić decided to instruct his supporters not to vote for any of the two candidates in the runoff. He claimed that they were both very much the same in serving the goals of the US-NATO Empire and the corrupt capitalist oligarchy and that therefore it was irrelevant which "puppet" would win the presidency.[ii]

In my previous report, I stated that it would be wise for the incumbent president Josipović to modify some of his geopolitical positions and social policy proposals and try to get Sinčić on his side. Otherwise, I predicted that he would lose the presidency to the Empire's favorite: Grabar-Kitarović.

Josipović was either unwilling or unable (due perhaps to some publicly unknown Empire's blackmail) to mollify Sinčić, and he became the first Croatian presidential incumbent not to get the second term. On January 11, he received 49.5% of the vote, while his opponent got 50.5%.[iii] Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović became the president of Croatia for the next five year period.

Although it may appear that the US-NATO Empire has a great deal to celebrate because, after all, the candidate they favored got to be the president, in essence this is a Pyrrhic victory. Very soon Sinčić and his fellow activists will be elected to the Parliament and they will be able to seriously curtail the course charted by Grabar-Kitarović and her imperial mentors.

Greece

In contrast to Croatia, the president in Greece is not elected directly by the people but by the deputies in the Parliament. However, if the candidate proposed by the prime minister is not elected in the three rounds of voting (three ballots), the government falls and the immediate parliamentary elections are held.

In my previous report, I explained why I thought that the US-NATO Empire favorite Stavros Dimas, former foreign minister and EU Commissioner, proposed as the candidate by the prime minister Antonis Samaras, will not get the necessary votes to get elected. I expressed some concern that perhaps certain corrupt vote manipulations might take place on the final ballot on December 29 in order to prevent the snap parliamentary elections.

This concern arose from the fact that the likely winner of the parliamentary elections would be SYRIZA, the coalition of anti-imperialist left forces, whose political platform included the measures that would spell the end of neoliberal economic policies not only in Greece, but also in the rest of the European Union. SYRIZA and its leader Alexis Tsipras did not mince words in criticizing the policies of the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) and vowed to stop what they saw as punitive measures against the Greek people as a whole. In fact, Tsipras' economic adviser, Yanis Varoufakis, a well-known maverick economic theory professor and the author of The Global Minotaur , the best-selling book on the 2008 financial crisis, called these policies "fiscal waterboarding".[iv]

My concern turned out to be unfounded, and when the president failed to be elected on the third ballot, the prime minister Samaras scheduled the new elections for January 25.

In the run-up to the elections, it was clear that SYRIZA would win the majority, the only questions that remained to be answered were how large that majority would be and whether SYRIZA would be able to govern alone or would need a coalition partner.

SYRIZA's political program contained a radical break with the US-NATO Empire policies imposed on Greece not only from the economic, but also from the geopolitical perspective. SYRIZA called for the emancipatory re-orientation of the Greek foreign policy from the slavish following of the US-NATO interests to the articulation of autonomous policies contributing to global peace, solidarity, and cooperation among different nations. The concrete steps included in the political program dealt with the recall of the Greek soldiers from the current NATO mission in Afghanistan, the closing of all foreign bases on the Greek territory, and the exit from NATO. The economic sanctions against Russia also elicited SYRIZA's critique.

It was clear that, the victory of SYRIZA, if it were to take place, would represent the most significant ideological shift away from neoliberal imperialism since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet bloc.

And, then, on January 25, something that, from the viewpoint of the US-NATO Empire seemed nearly impossible, actually took place. SYRIZA won an overwhelming number of parliamentary seats, two short of the absolute majority (149 seats out of 300).[v] Already in the morning of the next day, they signed a coalition agreement with the rightist, anti-austerity Independent Greeks party (ANEL) which has 13 deputies. Tsipras became the new prime minister, and Varoufakis the new finance minister. Varoufakis paraphrased the words of the poet Dylan Thomas: "Greek democracy today chose to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light".[vi]

This entirely logical and rational "rage" is an unmistakable nightmare scenario for the US-NATO Empire. No wonder then that all the corporate-controlled media (from Bloomberg and CNN to the Wall Street Journal and the Economist) as well as the credit rating agencies went into the high gear finding all kinds of faults with SYRIZA and its first political moves. The next line of fire will be the Washington, London, and Brussels think tanks and then, unfortunately but very likely, also the Gladio operatives. It is worth recalling that Greece already went through a bloody NATO-supported, Gladio-run military junta government from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. Might the same happen again?

Still, the genie of political anti-imperialist rebellion in Europe is out of the bottle and cannot be repressed. The electoral success of SYRIZA will motivate like-minded political movements to spring up elsewhere in the European Union and take a stand against the unjust and corrupt militarist Empire, which tries to transform its twilight into a new dawn over dead bodies.

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Filip Kovacevic, Boiling Frogs Post contributing author and analyst, is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco, and can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

NOTES

[i] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/29/croatian-presidential-candidates-set-for-election-run-off

[ii] http://www.vecernji.hr/predsjednicki-izbori2014/sincic-podcijenili-su-me-josipovicu-sam-oteo-pobjedu-u-prvom-krugu-981564

[iii] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30765822

[iv] http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2015/01/05/stop-greeces-fiscal-waterboarding-interviewed-by-la-repubblica/

[v] http://www.ibtimes.com/greek-election-results-2015-syriza-wins-comfortable-margin-historic-elections-1794076

[vi] http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2015/jan/26/profile-yannis-varoufakis-greece-finance-minister