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.

Techno-Financial Capital & Genocide of the Poorest of the Poor

Total war from above and the outside breeds total war from the inside and below

Today, the ‘poorest of the poor’ are superfluous to empire and thus the policy of genocide. The current world war between the classes has become a war between exterminators and those who would fight to survive!

‘The war and its results have turned Yemen back a hundred years, due to the destruction of infrastructure . . . especially in the provinces of Oden, Dhalea and Taiz.’- Izzedine al-Asbali, Yemeni Human Rights Minister

‘Yemen is devastated. There are no roads, water or electricity. Nobody’s left but thieves.’- A resident of Sana (Yemen)

The Euro-American and Japanese ruling classes, as well as their collaborators in the Afro-Asian and Latin American countries, have accumulated vast profit. This has occurred through a complex stratified system re-concentrating the world’s wealth through: 1. The exploitation of labor in the First World (North America and Western Europe); 2. super-exploitation of labor in the Second World (China, ex-USSR); 3. dispossession of peasants, native communities and urban dwellers to grab resources, land and real estate in the Third World; and 4. wars of genocide against the poorest of the poor in the ‘Fourth World’. Besides all the forms of brutal exploitation and dispossession, which enrich the Euro-US ruling classes, by far the most sinister and threatening to humanity is the concerted worldwide effort to literally exterminate the poorest-of-the poor, the hundreds of millions of people no longer essential for the accumulation and concentration of imperial capital today.

This essay will begin by mapping the genocidal wars against ‘the wretched of the earth’, identifying the geography of genocide, the countries and subjects under attack, and the trajectory, which has been chosen and executed by the leaders of the Euro-American regimes.

Then we will examine the reason for genocide within the dynamics and forms of contemporary capitalism. In particular, we will develop the genocide hypothesis: that imperial genocide of the poorest of the poor is a deliberate policy to reduce the growing surplus labor, which is no longer needed or wanted for wealth accumulation but is increasingly feared as a potential political threat.

In the last section, we will discuss how the ‘wretched of the earth’ are responding to this policy of imperial genocide and what is to be done.

Mapping Genocide Against the Poorest of the Poor

It is no coincidence that the most violent assaults and invasions by the Euro-American powers have taken place against the poorest countries in each region of the world. In the Western hemisphere, the Euro-US regimes have repeatedly invaded the absolutely poorest country, Haiti, overthrowing the popularly elected Aristide government, decimating the population via a cholera epidemic spread by UN mercenary ‘peace-keepers’, killing tens of thousands of poor Haitians and rounding up thousands of protestors. The occupation continues. Honduras, the second poorest country in the region, experienced a US-backed coup d’état deposed their recently elected president and imposed a terrorist puppet regime, which regularly assassinates dissidents and landless rural workers. Peasants are dispossessed; the economy and society are in shambles with tens of thousands of Hondurans (especially children) fleeing the violence.

Today, the Euro-American powers actively support the absolutist regime of Saudi Arabia as it bombS and slaughters thousands of Yemeni civilians and resistance fighters. Yemen is the poorest country in the Gulf region.

In South Asia, the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan; its coalition of puppets and NATO allies have massacred and displaced millions of poor farmers and civilians. Afghanistan is the poorest of the poor countries in the region.

In Africa, the Euro-American powers and their local collaborators have invaded, bombed and occupied Somalia, Chad and Mali - among the poorest of sub-Sahara countries.

After the US-NATO campaign of destruction against Libya, 1.5 million sub-Saharan Africans and black citizens of Libya lost their stable employment and became the victims of ethnic slaughter. Their attempts to escape the violence and starvation by fleeing to Europe are blocked by the leading powers (the same powers that destroyed the Libyan economy and society). Those, who do not drown in their flight, are detained and returned to their devastated countries and early deaths.

In Western Europe, millions of Greeks, Spaniards and Portuguese, inhabiting the poorest countries in the region, have faced massive job losses, widespread impoverishment and spiraling suicides - all induced by austerity programs designed to pillage their economies and enrich their Euro-US creditors.

In the United States, 1.5 million black (mostly male) Americans, are ‘missing’ – products of early death, industrial-scale incarceration and police assassinations. American Indian communities are subject to depredations and early death from the policies of the Federal and State governments. Their lands have been handed over to mining (and now fracking) to serve the interests of the mining and agro-business elite. Throughout the US Latino agricultural workers are increasingly viewed as ‘expendable’ with technology and the effects of global climate change (such as the severe drought in California) depriving them of livelihood.

In the Levant, Palestinians, now the poorest of the poor and the most disenfranchised, face continued Israeli land grabs, pillage and violence in the West Bank and genocidal attacks in Gaza. Iraq and Syria have experienced millions of deaths and displacements, reducing previously prosperous, educated and sophisticated multi-ethnic populations into impoverished, uprooted and desperate people deliberately driven backwards to tribal loyalties.

Why Imperialism ‘Genocides the Poorest of the Poor’

With the exception of Iraq and Syria, all of the violated countries have been poor in resources and markets, and possess large unskilled labor. The people are targeted and savaged because they no longer serve as ‘labor reserves’ – they are now excess-surplus labor – in Nazi racial hygiene terminology, they have become ‘useless mouths to feed’. This has intensified as crisis engulfs the West and the least productive sectors of capitalism, finance, real estate and insurance (FIRE), have become the leading sectors of capital. ‘Cheap labor’ is less needed, least of all overseas labor from conflictual regions.

The ‘poorest of the poor’ countries under attack lack rich resources ripe for plunder; their populations do not exist among the priorities of the multi-national bankers – except when seen as ‘obstacles’. In the colonial past, sectors of these populations would have been recruited by imperial countries to submit, obey and serve as imperial mercenaries or coolie labor. They would have been transported and employed by empire for ‘dirty’, dangerous and poorly paid jobs in other colonized countries – like the millions of Indians scattered throughout the former British Empire. Today, such coolies have no value.

The genocidal nature of the wars against the ‘poorest of the poor’ is best demonstrated by the actual targets and primary victims of these wars: Millions of civilians, families, women, children and heads of households have suffered the worst. These ‘targets’ represent the most stable and essential elements responsible for family reproduction and security. The ‘poorest of the poor’ communities are being destroyed. Genocidal bombing has overwhelmingly targeted the essential factors for survival: cohesive households, communal settings, subsistence food growing regions and access to clean water. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that marriage ceremonies and traditional social gatherings have been ‘mistaken targets’ of missiles and drone strikes. Despite the denials from the White House, the geographic extent and nauseating number of such attacks demonstrate that according to the ‘genocide hypothesis’ there is ‘nowhere to hide’: The targeted populations will have no marriage celebrations, no social life, no increase in children among the poorest of the poor, no protection for the elders, no social fabric and no communal organizations – there will be no survival networks left for the superfluous of empire.

The ‘genocide hypothesis’ underlies the practice of ‘total war’. The practice includes massive attacks on non-military targets (‘Shock and Awe’) and the use of high tech weaponry to target collectives of the poorest of the poor – repeatedly, over long periods of time and wide geographic regions.

If, as the apologists of genocidal wars claim, the bombings of weddings and slaughter of school children are ‘collateral’ in the ‘Global War on Terror’ why are they happening everywhere in the fourth world and virtually everyday?

The genocide hypothesis best explains the data. Even the terminology and claims made by imperialist experts regarding their weapons systems support the genocide hypothesis. These weapons, we are told, are ‘intelligent, precise and highly accurate’ in targeting and destroying ‘the enemy’. By their own admission, then, the poorest of the poor have become ‘the enemy’, as imperial weapons makers support ‘intelligent’ genocide with ‘precision’.

When liberals and leftists criticize how imperial drone strikes kill civilians, instead of ‘armed terrorists’, they are missing the essential point of the policy. The prime purpose of the wars and the imperial weapons of mass destruction is to kill the largest number of the very poorest in the shortest time.

No member of the financial-high tech capitalist class has ever complained about the mass killing of the ‘poorest of the poor’ anywhere or at any time because the victims are, for the purpose of accumulating imperial profit and concentrating wealth superfluous. The poorest don’t figure into the formulae of profit and productivity; they don’t ‘make or take’ markets. On the other hand, their continued existence is a potential liability. They are aesthetically unappealing on the outskirts of luxury resorts. To the rich, they represent a desperate criminal element and they may pose a real or imagined ‘terrorist’ threat. For these reasons, the rich would ‘prefer’ that they would quietly cease to exist, or if the warlords have to dispose of them, the world will be a safer and more attractive place to accumulate wealth. ‘Let them kill each other, as they have done for millennia’, the empire piously opines and the bankers and their high tech allies can use their military and mercenaries without soiling their own hands. The elite ignore the mass immiseration while the militarists bomb ‘the problem’ out of existence.

Today genocide occurs in once vibrant living and working communities, not hidden in ‘concentration camps’. The secret ovens and gas chambers have been replaced by an ‘open range’ of incendiary weapons that end lives, burn neighborhoods and workshops, devastate livestock and crops. Those who survive the bombing are starved, enclosed, malnourished and inflicted with disease. Eminent doctors tell us that the misery is ‘self-inflicted’ and that the poorest of the poor are ignorant and lack healthy habits. Recurrent epidemics from HIV to cholera to Ebola are quintessential ‘4th world diseases’. Even though the Caribbean had not seen cholera for over a century, its introduction into Haiti via the bowels of imperial mercenary troops (UN peacekeepers from Nepal) was blamed on the Haitians’ lack of access to clean water! Not since the small pox blankets passed out by the US Army to freezing Native Americans in their concentration camps of the 19th century have we heard such apologists for genocide!

The truth about genocide is that all this is known, repeatedly documented and forgotten. White workers in the First World cannot even register these ‘facts’ under their own noses, let alone express any form of solidarity. Imperial genocide, committed by proactive militarists and ‘passive’ rich elites, are no secret even if they deny their complicity. The key word here is ‘mission’. ‘Mission Accomplished’ was the celebratory banner over the total destruction of Iraq. The warlords claim rewards for successfully completing ‘the mission’. Yemenis are dying under US-supplied Saudi bombs; Somalis are scattered in tens of thousands of tents to the four corners of the earth; Haitians continue to enjoy the ‘gift of cholera’ from UN ‘peacekeepers’ and rot in massive open air prison-slums – their leaders imprisoned or assassinated.

The Poorest of the Poor Respond

In the face of genocide and their irrelevance to the profit motive of modern high tech and finance capital, the poorest of the poor have chosen multiple responses: (1) Mass out-migration, preferable to the First World, where they won’t be bombed, raped or starved as they had been at ‘home’; (2) Internal migration to the cities, under the illusion of an ‘urban safe haven’ when in fact their concentration in slums makes it easier for the bombers; (3) return to the countryside and subsistence farming or the mountains and subsistence herding, but the missiles and drones relentlessly follow them; (4) mass flight to a neighboring country where the local gendarmes will ‘herd’ them into camps to rot and (5) finally resistance. Resistance takes various forms: There are spontaneous upheavals when the scope of abuse exceeds all endurance. This form involves attacking the local collaborators and gendarmes and authorities and sacking food warehouses. Such action burns briefly and dies (many times literally). Some choose to join armed resistance bands, including gangs of brigands, political ethno-religious rivals and terrorists who retaliate against authors of their genocide and its collaborators with their own version of justice and material and celestial rewards.

Total war from above and the outside breeds total war from the inside and below. The rebellion of the ‘wretched of the earth’ in the 21st century is far different from that portrayed by Franz Fanon in the middle of the last century. Fanon described a revolt against colonialism and neo-colonialism. Today the revolt is against deracination and genocide. During colonialism, the ‘wretched’ needed to be subdued to better exploit their labor and resources. Today, the ‘poorest of the poor’ are superfluous to empire and thus the policy of genocide. The current world war between the classes has become a war between exterminators and those who would fight to survive!

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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.