Η ελπίδα δέν έρχεται

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

Special editorial note: Apologies to readers for a rather long post. This is because it concerns what we consider to be a key moment in the political development of Europe. The dramatis personae include King Leonidas at Thermopylae, a disciplinarian German headmistress, and Manolis Glezos, a World War II hero who tore down the swastika flag that the troops of the Third Reich had hoisted over the Acropolis in Athens. After analysing the content and causes of the present discontents, we consider the reactions of the various parties involved, the likely repercussions in Greece and elsewhere and, finally, what we believe ought to have happened.

23 February 2015

NEOLIBERAL JUGGERNAUT CRUSHES GREENHORN GREEK REBELS

The little dogs barked but the European caravan moved on regardless.

“Η ελπίδα έρχεται”

Soon you will be able to hope again.

It was in line with this ubiquitous campaign slogan that Syriza, the winning party in the recent Greek parliamentary elections on 25 January 2015, pledged to put an end to the savage austerity that had plunged vast numbers of Greeks into homelessness, joblessness and poverty.

A new slogan is now required in view of Syriza’s abject capitulation last Friday to tight-fisted money lenders from Frankfurt, Brussels and Washington as it humbly acquiesced in yet another turn of the thumscrew of austerity in exchange for a few more miserable crumbs from the tables of the new masters of the universe, the international bankster mafia:

“Η ελπίδα δέν έρχεται”

Hope? You must be joking.

 U-turns are par for the course in politics, but the cave-in by the new Greek government to the diktats from flint-hearted Germany and its tightwad accomplices less than a month after it came to power in parliamentary elections on 25 January has taken place at warp speed. It is arguably the fastest and most comprehensive volte-face in by a political party in recent history. Syriza has fall in with a request from its creditors to throw overboard its entire electoral programme and to ditch systematically all pre-election pledges to the Greek electorate.

Throughout the election campaign and during the four weeks since the ballot brought the “radical” Syriza party to power that party’s leaders repeatedly pledged an immediate end to externally-imposed austerity and swore to the people of Greece that “Greeks will no longer be humiliated” by its dunning creditors.

On Friday 20 February 2015 at a meeting of the 19-state eurozone (a single-currency bloc within the 28-nation European Union) the Greek representatives tore up, one by one, every loud-mouth promise they had made to their electors in a humiliating climb-down that represented an unconditional surrender to their intransigent paymasters led by Germany.

On Friday Syriza agreed to make an all-consuming bonfire of its myriad white-knight pledges to ride to to the help of  the country’s poor, homeless, hungry, cold and jobless. Simultaneously, it dashed the hopes of millions of decent people around the world that Greece might provide the model for a brave new world of justice and humanity by taking a determined and principled stand against the uncaring savagery of global neoliberal orthodoxy. Alas, it was not to be.

Syriza is now a busted flush and Greece is stuffed.

U-TURN AFTER U-TURN

In particular, Syriza had vowed during the election campaign that:

  • it would no longer negotiate with the hated triad (officially “troika”) of creditors (the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, the European Commission in Brussels and the International Monetary Fund in Washington) that had imposed draconian cuts in Greek public spending – “fiscal waterboarding” – in exchange for a loan bail-0ut. On Friday it agreed to do just that, the only change being a cosmetic one, namely that “the “troika” will now be referred to as “the institutions”;

 

  • the bail-out with its austericidal conditions (the hated “memorandum of understanding”), which is due to expire on 28 February, would be replaced by a six-month bridging loan without strings attached. On Friday “the institutions” (ie the former “troika”) refused to provide a bridging loan without strings attached and Greece, on its knees and short of cash, was forced to agree to accept an extension for only four months of the existing bail-out together with its austerity-based conditions ;

 

  • it would negotiate the cancellation of part of Greece’s public sector debt and seek a longer term in which to repay the remaining capital and interest. Neither of these requests have been granted.

 However, that is not all.

The extension of the bail-out agreed in broad outline on Friday 20 February will not take place unless two further conditions are met:

(1) The Greek government has been ordered to present “the institutions” by this evening 23 February with an acceptable list of the reforms (proposals for cutting public spending and raising public revenues) it intends to implement over the four months in question;

(2) If these reforms are acceptable to “the institutions”, extension of the loan will then be subject to a final hurdle. It must be approved by the parliaments of Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Estonia.

In the event that all these conditions are fulfilled and the bail-out extension is granted, during the four months of its existence Greek compliance with the bail-out conditions will continue to be policed, as hitherto, by “the institutions” (the new name for the hated “troika”). However, as a concession to Athens, the Greek government will have the flexibility to make some changes to the conditions, subject to approval by “the institutions”, provided that these changes do not lead to budgetary imbalances, i.e. public spending over and above the limits set under the bail-out;

Over the four months of the extension a further bail-out is to be negotiated with “the institutions” in the context of a continued programme of “reforms” (i.e. public spending cutbacks, a slimming down of the civil service and the privatization of state assets).

So after three weeks of “negotiations” with “the institutions” the Greeks have ended up with….diddly-squat.

Apart, that is, from a name change for “the troika”.

Well done, chaps!

After a lot of huffing, puffing and hollering by the Greeks, the naughty school children of Syriza who had been threatening to break the school rules have been whipped into line by the German headmistress, Angela Merkel, and her fellow martinets.

Why has this happened?

FOUR REASONS WHY SYRIZA COCKED IT UP

Well, in the first place, Syriza threw away its bargaining chips before it went into the negotiations. This was the most glaring of mistakes and it is hard to imagine how they could have done it.

Syriza had one thing and one thing only that its creditors wanted. They wanted it to stay in the European Union and the eurozone. Even if one country alone, e.g. Greece, were to leave the eurozone, this would mean that membership of the bloc was not irreversible. The standing of the euro in the financial markets would be seriously impaired as a result. And other eurozone members might be tempted to pull out if the going got tough for their economies.

So what did Syriza do?

Even before it entered into the current negotations with its creditors – indeed throughout the election campaign and in fact as long ago as the last parliamentary election in June 2012 – Syriza repeatedly committed itself to staying within both the European Union and the eurozone. In an interview with Helena Smith in the London Guardian on 14 February, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said: “I cannot possibly separate the fate of this country from the fate of Europe”, adding that Athens was never going to ask to leave the euro, which would be tantamount to “falling off a cliff”.

So “the institutions” knew that they had nothing to lose by taking a tough line on Syriza’s pleas for debt forgiveness. Syriza had already given up in advance the one bargaining chip that would have given its adversaries pause for thought.

The Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is an academic economist supposedly specializing in game theory (the study of negotiating tactics). However, he turns out, when tested in the fire, to be all mouth and no trousers. Or, as the Texans say, he’s all hat and no cattle.

Given that Varoufakis is the lead negotiator for the Greeks and hence the person mainly responsible, on the Greek side, for the current debacle, one can hardly refrain from feeling sorry for his students. They’re not going to learn much.

Secondly, the greenhorn negotiators of Syriza – the party has only existed since 2004 – were too callow to be a match for the wily and experienced bureaucrats of “the institutions”.

Antigone1984 predicted as much in our post Soon you’ll be able to hope again(“Η ελπίδα έρχεται”) published on 24 January 2015:

“If Syriza were a genuinely party of the far left, would it not leap at the chance to throw down the gauntlet once and for all to the privateering European establishment and, in doing so, set an example for other similar parties the length and breadth of the continent?

But no. They are going to remain within the EU, they are going to remain within the eurozone, and they are going to negotiate “firmly but politely” with whoever will talk to them in the Eurocrat establishment – but not with the hated triad (euphemistically called the “troika) of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that imposed the hated austerity “memorandum” on Greece. They do not seem to realize that the European Commission and the European Central Bank are part of the European establishment and even the managing director of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, is a French politician.

Negotiations with the Eurocrats? They will smother you with open arms. These guys are the past masters of negotiations. They could negotiate the hind legs off a donkey. It will be like wading through treacle. As members of new party from a peripheral country with no experience of government, Syriza’s negotiators will be like minnows in a pond of piranhas. At best they will dance circles round you, at worst they will tear you to pieces. Good luck!”

And so, alas, it came to pass.

Thirdly, the Syriza government seemed to believe that it would be welcomed with open arms at the negotiating table. They had only to talk to the eurocrats, demonstrate what good Europeans they were (by not wanting to leave the EU or abandon the euro), explain that, like any orthodox EU state, they were enthusiastic supporters of market-based economic growth – and the eurocrats would be bowled over with admiration and would give them whatever they wanted. Which was a loan without strings attached.

This was naïve in the extreme.

The principle aim of the dominant rightwing current in today’s EU is to achieve a balance or surplus in the public accounts and to achieve this, where necessary, by slashing public spending, privatising state assets and “reforming” labour relations by outsourcing public services, cutting benefits, making it easier for employers to sack workers, reducing pensions and raising the pension age.

Syriza swept to power in Greece as a result of promises to the electorate that, in many respects, it would do the direct opposite: give free electricity to the poor, re-employ sacked workers, halt privatizations, and increase pensions and the minimum wage.

It is an indisputable fact that such humanitarian proposals are anathema to the penny-pinching capitalist politicians that are running the EU on behalf of international big business.

So why did Syriza expect the red carpet to be rolled out for it when its representatives rocked up in Brussels or other European capitals?

It was truly loathsome to see pictures of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras being glad-handed by European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker at his Brussels bunker only a week or so before Juncker and his cronies knifed Syriza in the jugular.

Even more shocking was the photograph of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis being greeted shortly after the Greek election by a supercilious George Osborne, the British finance minister, outside the Treasury in London. Varoufakis was on a whistle-stop tour of European finance ministries to drum up support for Syriza’s stance against austerity. He got little change out of “socialist” French President François Hollande or “socialist” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, but at least it was reasonable to expect they might have helped, but what benefit did he expect to get from lobbying George Osborne, the protagonist of the rightwing British government’s vicious five-year crackdown on anyone who is poor, workless, homeless or disabled?

Syriza did not seem to be aware of the antagonism that their proposals for helping the poor in Greece would stir up inside governments which were themselves trampling their own poor in the gutter.

Nor, fourthly, did Syriza appear fully to register the determination of Europe’s rightwing governments to prevent the anti-austerity rot spreading to other European countries with similar levels of poverty to that of Greece, such as Portugal and Spain. In fact, there is no shortage of European funding to prop up the public finances of a country such as Greece where output represents a mere 2% of the EU’s GDP. However, if they gave in to Greece, they fear that this would encourage profligate populist demands elsewhere. So Greece had to be put firmly in its place at the outset so as to prevent the contagion spreading. Now that this has been done, the ground has been cut from under the feet of populist left-leaning parties elsewhere, such as the new “Podemos” in Spain, now polling as the party with the highest percentage of support among the Spanish electorate. Podemos is campaigning on a platform that is as contradictory as that on the basis of which Syriza has come to grief: it wants to end austerity while remaining, like Syriza, inside the apparently comforting bulwark of the European Union and the eurozone. It is not by accident that the rightwing Partido Popular party in government in Spain fully endorsed Germany’s determination to knock the stuffing out of Syriza.

A PYRRHIC VICTORY

Back in Athens, how has the Syriza government represented its defeat to the Greek people?

Instead of admitting defeat and his political impotence, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras indulged in an orgy of spin-doctoring.

“We won a battle, not the war,” he told television viewers on Saturday 21 February 2015. “Yesterday we took a decisive step forward by abandoning austerity, plans for restructuring [the Greek economy] and the troika.”

The truth is that he lost the war as well as the battle. Instead of taking a step forward, he took a major step backward by agreeing to continue virtually unchanged the savage austerity and restructuring programme forced on the preceding government by its external creditors.

It has to be conceded that he did achieve the astonishing feat of getting the moniker of Greece’s creditors changed from “troika” to “institutions”. Bravo! Or “wunderbar!” as his German adversaries will doubtless have told him.

Despite this apparently sensational success, the Prime Minister curiously felt the need to warn his fellow citizens that “we have a long and difficult time ahead”.

The deal is widely regarded as a major climb down for the PM, who won power vowing to reverse budget cuts.

In a report in the London Guardian on Friday night 20 February 2015 after the deal was sealed German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who has refused to concede an iota to Greek demands, said that Syriza would have to back austerity measures that it had vowed to repeal. “The Greeks certainly will have a difficult time explaining the deal to their voters,” he said.

Just over a week earlier, according to a BBC report earlier, on 12 February 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had adopted a more emollient tone, saying that a compromise was possible in the stand-off with Greece over its bail-out terms.

But Mrs Merkel also told reporters as she arrived for a conference with the other 28 leaders of the EU that “Europe’s credibility depends on us sticking to rules”.

Mrs Merkel suggested there was negotiating room:

“Europe always aims to find a compromise and this is the cornerstone of Europe’s success,” she declared.

Here Antigone1984 must confess to a making an assumption that turns out to have been wildly off-beam. On the basis of around two decades of experience within the European institutions, we assumed that the end result of the talks between Germany and Syriza would be a messy compromise whereby both sides would come away feeling that they had been short-changed but that enough had been gained to justify sealing the deal. At least this is what has happened on every such occasion that we can recollect in the past.

Not this time.

This time there was no compromise. Merkel was lying. This was a massacre. The Germans wiped the floor with their opponents and made them sweep the mess up afterwards. Tsipras and Varoufakis got nothing, Merkel and Schäuble took everything – hook, line and sinker. It was an unmitigated defeat for the Greeks.

THERMOPYLAE

This was Thermopylae all over again.

This time, however, instead of fighting the aggressors to the last man like the Spartan king Leonidas and his valiant 300 hoplites in the pass under Mount Oeta in 480 BC, king Tsipras and his epigoni caved in immediately at the first whiff of gunpowder, abandoning their weapons and taking to the hills.

Not for them the glorious epitaph that the poet Simonides penned for the heroes of Thermopylae:

Ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε

κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

 

Traveller, let the Spartans know that

Here we lie, having done what they told us to do.

 SO WHAT NOW?

Syriza is now finished as a progressive political force. Its leaders have shown themselves to be a bunch of amateurs who failed to get out of the starting blocks.

There are various possibilities:

RESIGNATIONS

Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza Prime Minister, could take personal responsibility for the tragedy and resign. Dream on. We think this unlikely. A man who is happy to jettison his election pledges at the first hint of trouble is unlikely to act on principle. Having now had a taste of power, he is likely to want to keep it. Power goes to the heads of the powerful, leading in particular to the self-deluding egocentric conviction that “the country will go to the dogs without me”. This despite the fact that the country has already gone to the dogs and it is Tsipras who bears a large share of the responsibility for it.

While we are on the subject of failed politicians falling on their swords, what about Tsipras’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis buying a one-way ticket back to Texas where he has just given up a post as an economist at the state university in Austin? According to an interview with him by Helena Smith in the London Guardian on 14 February 2015, Varoufakis “can marvel at the wondrousness of capitalism”. In an essay of his own published in the same organ on 18 Febuary, Varoufakis maintains that an implosion of European capitalism “should be avoided at all costs” and that the task of the left is “to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism”. Thus, he has chosen “not to propose radical political programs that seek to exploit the crisis as an opportunity to overthrow European capitalism, to dismantle the awful eurozone, and to undermine the European Union of the cartels and the corrupt bankers.” No, on the contrary, the left must “forge alliances with reactionary forces ” in order to “stabilise Europe today”. Within views like these – oh so reminiscent of the calls from the sell-out social democrat parties for “responsible capitalism” – it is hardly suprising that Varoufakis is persona grata at a university in one of the most conservative states in the land of our great leader across the pond.

NEW ELECTIONS BEFORE THE SUMMER

New parliamentary elections before the summer, possibly once the conditions for the next (third) bail-out are read out to Athens during the forthcoming “negotiations”. This is what Antonis Samaras, the defeated New Democracy party Prime Minister, is said to have predicted in the event that he lost the recent elections. At which point New Democracy is likely to be voted back into power.

NEW ELECTIONS SOON

New parliamentary elections in the immediate future. This would be triggered if Syriza lost its majority in parliament. This could result from one of three developments:

MUTINY FROM WITHIN THE RANKS

Firstly, the Left Platform (the left-wing of Syriza) abandons the party because of the betrayal of the party’s election promises by the Syriza leadership. Depending on how this happens, it could deprive Syriza of a majority in parliament. It is the only logical step for the Left Platform to take. If it now gives carte blanche to the Syriza leaders to continue in government after its abject surrender to the Europeans, then it too should pack up and go home. Syriza, full of sound and fury, a model for naïve wishful-thinkers throughout the European left, will have turned out to be a toothless tiger, signifying nothing.

Rumbings have already started within Syriza and indeed from the beating heart of the party.

In a report published this afternoon in the 24 February edition of the French newspaper Le Monde, Manolis Glezos, a Syriza Member of the European Parliament, shot down his Prime Minister’s tendentious boasts.

Mr Glezos, aged 92, is famous throughout Greece for his resistance to the Nazis in World War II. In 1941, with a colleague, he tore down the swastika flag that the occupiers had planted on the Acropolis of Athens. Mr Glezos is not particularly well-disposed towards the current financial invaders of his country either.

“To change the word ‘troika’ to ‘institutions’, the word ‘memorandum’ to ‘agreement’ and the world ‘creditors’ to ‘partners’ does not change the status quo ante in any way,” said Mr Glezos.

“More than a month has gone by and the promise [Syriza made to the Greek people] has still not been carried out. It gets worse and worse. As far as I am concerned, I beg the people of Greece to forgive me for having contributed to this illusion [that Syriza would do what it had pledged to do].”

Mr Glezos called for a debate within the party lickety-split on the direction being taken by Syriza and the developments now taking place.

Mr Glezos was immediately rubbished by Tsipras’s entourage as an old dodderer. “Mr Glezos is perhaps not well informed as regards the reality of the difficult negotiations in which we are involved,” they said.

Another party loyalist, Dimitris Papadimoulis, invited Mr Glezos, effectively, to shut his mouth and toe the party line. This is, of course, the classic response of party apparatchiks when individual members of a party call into question controversial decisions by the party hierarchy. An affront to democracy, it should be ignored in all circumstances.

PATRIOTIC GREEKS

Secondly,  the 13 patriotic rightwing “Independent Greeks” with whom Syriza, two seats short of an absolute parliamentary majority, has formed a coalition government, may also leave the government. They have been strongly opposed to the humiliation of Greece by the Europeans and in particular the Germans. It remains to be seen whether the blandishments of a place in the cabinet will override their principled antipathy to Syriza’s capitulation to the country’s bean-counting external pay-masters.

UNREST IN THE STREETS

Thirdly, neither can one discount the possibility of unrest in the streets once the population wises up to the extent to which Syriza has betrayed them. Serious street violence could topple the government. The rightwing parties, such as New Democracy, PASOK (the discredited self-styled “socialist” party) and the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, will seek to exploit such unrest. It is virtually certain that Athens will row back on its commitment to halt the hated sell-out of state assets to the private sector – resulting in lay-offs, reduced wages and impaired working conditions – that had been started by the previous rightwing government at the instigation of the triad. Once this filters through to the rank-and-file in Greece’s still militant trade unions, union bosses can be expected to call their members out on to the streets. A voter interviewed by Le Monde for its 24 February edition told the paper: “As far as I am concerned, the volte-face by Varoufakis and Tsipras has been a disappointment. I voted for them so that they could put an end to austerity – not for them to prolong it for four months or even longer!”

WHAT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED?

We make no apologies for reproducing below an argument we recently made in our post Gary Cooper and the Sheriff of Athens published on 9 February 2015.

“…readers of this blog will…be aware that Antigone1984 is very much opposed to the realization of a scenario that would lead to the creation of a United States of Europe. Quite the contrary. We have consistently argued in favour of the disintegration of the European Union as well as of the eurozone within it and for the reversion to a group of fully sovereign European nation states free to trade with one another as the whim takes them but with the power to direct their own economies as they see fit and to take their own political decisions in the interest of their own citizens without fear of interference from a power-crazed empire-building Eurocratic elite holed up out of touch in its Belgian ivory tower.

It is for this reason that  (Hélas Hellas!) we regard Syriza, the political party which now dominates the new coalition government in Greece, as simply a progressive social democratic party and not, despite its partly Marxist origins and its naive cheerleaders among leftwing groups elsewhere in Europe, a radical leftwing anti-capitalist anti-market party. Instead of “negotiating” to remain organically within the supposed comfort zone of the European Union and the euro currency bloc, both fundamentally capitalist constructions, a radical leftwing party could not have failed to seize this historic opportunity to break free and reclaim full national sovereignty in an economy based on cooperation, deprivatization, the egalitarian distribution of wealth and income, patriotic industrial protectionism and participative democratic decision-making. 

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 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

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Posted in Economics, Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Politics, Spain, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Athens rejects Spartan terms

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

15 February 2015

“Voters are the eurozone’s weakest link.”

A headline in London’s Financial Times over an article on Greece by foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman on 30 December 2014.

 

“I think that the Greeks…know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and the eurozone,” said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, according to an article by columnist Owen Jones in the London Guardian a few days earlier on 22 December 2014. “I wouldn’t like extreme forces to come to power.” Juncker said later that he hoped that the “old familiar faces” – i.e. those of the incumbent New Democracy party – would be re-elected in the event of an early election in Greece.

 

“We don’t change policies depending on elections.”

Thus Jyrki Katainen, a vice-president of the European Commmisson and Finnish Prime Minister from 2011 to 2014, in the London Guardian on 4 February 2015.

Katainen was reacting to the result of the parliamentary elections in Greece on 25 January, which ousted the biddable euro-conformist New Democracy party that had accepted bail-out loans from the EU and the IMF in exchange for slash-and-burn public spending cuts. New Democracy was turfed out by the left-leaning Syriza party opposed to continued austerity.

Ian Traynor, the Guardian’s Europe editor, commented: “In other words, governments may come and go, but the policies remain the same.”

Katainen is not alone. The EU’s pay-master Germany as well as Holland, Austria and Spain take the same hard-line: the Greeks have drawn down the bulk of the loans – a total of about €240 billion – so Athens must stick to the Spartan conditions attached.

In a flagrant contradiction in terms, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said that his country will “fully respect the mandate” handed to Syriza by the Greek electorate but that the new government must abide by the terms of the bail-out loan agreed by its predecessor New Democracy.

Similar remarks have been attributed to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Holland’s finance minister, who is a member of the Dutch Labour Party and president of the 19-national single-currency eurozone group (to which Greece belongs) within the EU.

Luis de Guindos, the Spanish finance minister, has gone further and called for the repayment of Spain’s contribution to the bail-out if Greece does not respect the draconian conditions attached when it was granted.

French Prime Minister François Hollande, a member of the Socialist Party, who had been expected to take a more lenient line, has been quoted in the French newspaper Le Monde as saying that “governments must respect the commitments into which they have entered”.

Antigone1984:

There is a simple explanation for the paradox that EU governments are bending over backwards to say that they respect the result of democratic elections – well, what else could they say, never failing to remind less enlightened nations elsewhere, as they consistently do, that Europe is the home and fountainhead of democracy? – while at the same time insisting that the victors repudiate the platform on the basis of which their voters elected them.

The explanation – disclosed exclusively to readers of Antigone1984, given that, unsurprisingly, there is no mention of it anywhere in the orthodox mainstream media – is the prevalence of partitocracy, which has supplanted democracy in reality throughout Europe, the United States and elsewhere, the name democracy alone being retained for public relations reasons.

What is partitocracy?

For an answer readers could do worse than check out our seminal article on the subject   ( Partitocracy v. Democracy ) published on 20 July 2012.

Here, in any case, are some key extracts:

Democracy is a word derived from Greek meaning “rule by the people”.

By this definition, however, western so-called democracies are not in fact democracies. They are partitocracies.

Partitocracy means “rule by political parties”.

In the so-called western democracies, there are normally two major political parties, both of them fully committed to the market economy. Normally, one of these parties holds power for a time during which it implements market-favourable policies involving austerity for the population at large. At the next election, the party in power, which has become unpopular because of its austerity policies, is succeeded by the other party, whose popularity has not decreased since it was not the party which had implemented the austerity measures. That second party then goes on to impose on the population precisely the same austerity measures as its predecessor. At the succeeding election, its resultant unpopularity forces it to give way to the first party.  And so it goes on. The two parties, which have virtually the same policies, alternate in office. The party elite on both sides is reasonably happy with this system since it means that each of the parties has its turn in office. The people, moreover, has no realistic alternative but to vote for one or other party. Thus, since the parties have virtually identical programmes, the people has no opportunity to vote for change….

A further problem is the historic sell-out of principle by the world’s socialist parties. These parties retain their socialist moniker in order to hoodwink gullible supporters into thinking that they support socialism, whereas in reality they have gone over to the other side. All the western socialist parties are today capitalist parties. In substance but not in name, they differ in no respect from the capitalism parties of the right. They have betrayed their birthright for a mess of potage – occasional investiture with the trappings, but not the reality, of power. The reality of power remains firmly at all times in the hands of the corporations and businesses to which all political parties now do slavish obeisance. For this reason, we believe that the western socialist parties, together with their lackeys in one-time radical trade unions, are a greater impediment to political change than the conservative parties. At least with the conservative parties we know that they are our enemies. They make no bones about it. The socialist parties by contrast are snakes in the grass. They pretend to be other than what they are. As a result, they con a great many unsophisticated electors into voting for them in the mistaken belief that they remain the progressive parties of their origins, that they still represent the interests of the downtrodden and the common man. It is the Big Lie of contemporary politics. The socialist parties of today are traitors to the cause. They are the Judas Iscariots of our time. In exchange for their 30 pieces of silver, they have betrayed every ideal of socialism. [These turncoats have] made a Faustian pact with the representatives of Capital…

What will in fact happen [in the foreseeable future]? Our crystal ball indicates that we shall have more of the same. The status quo will continue. As we have explained above, the virtually invariable alternation in power of two parties with virtually identical policies means that no significant political change is possible in western societies. The political system has been deliberately designed to eliminate the possibility of change – while at the same time using spin doctors and advertising to give the totally fallacious impression that the alternation in power of differently named political parties does in fact represent change.  As has often been said,if voting changed anything, it wouldn’t be allowed”.

What has this to do with the current situation in Greece?

As we have explained above, the normal result of an election is that either the party (or coalition of parties) in power is re-elected and pursues the same policies that it pursued before the election or a different party (or coalition of parties) is election but one which continues to pursue the same policies as those implemented by its defeated predecessor.

It is the first of these two scenarios on which the Eurocrats were (literally) banking as the hoped-for outcome of the Greek ballot on 25 January 2015. The election of another party (or coalition of parties) with the same political stance as the incumbent party would also have been acceptable. However, unfortunately for the euro-establishment and contrary to the normal course of events in our self-styled western democracies, no such party was within shouting distance of winning the election. So all euro-bets were placed on the incumbent horse. Had New Democracy won the election in Greece, the status quo would have been preserved and government policy would have continued unchanged as if no election had taken place. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” is the motto of the western bureau-democrat.

In the Greek case, the bail-out programme would have continued and so would the accompanying austerity.

However, it was not to be.

In a rare triumph of popular democracy – the exception which proves the rule – all the threats and blandishments of the establishment failed and the voters elected a non-establishment party with an alternative platform based on taking a knife to austerity.

Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth from the bunkers of Berlin to the ivory towers of Brussels and the IMF gnomeland on the banks of the Potomac.

These guys are used to getting their own way – and when they don’t get it, they don’t like it – big time!

The Syriza government now in power in Syntagma Square was elected to pursue policies significantly at variance with those of the preceding government.

It now wants to put those policies into practice.

And this is where it gets surreal.

“No you don’t”, shouts the establishment. “You must put into practice the policies of the previous government that was defeated at the hustings.”

Such are their instructions to Syriza.

Oh dear.

In a democracy, are electors allowed only to vote for the status quo?

If they back the “wrong” horse and the “wrong” horse wins, is the result to be regarded as null and void?

Indeed, one might ask, if voters are not allowed to vote for change, what is the point of voting at all?

Such is the sorry state of western democracy today.

Some 2 500 years ago in 462 BC the people’s tribune Ephialtes wrenched power from the oligarchical council of elder statesmen and old freddies that met on the Areopagus hill in Athens and transferred them to new-fangled democratic institutions: popular courts, elected councillors and an assembly of all citizens that met on the fan-shaped Pnyx plateau nearby overlooking the city.

Athens, then as now the leading city of Greece, became thereby the birthplace and crucible of western democracy.

Has it all been in vain?

——–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

 

Posted in Austria, Economics, Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Politics, Spain, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Un perro andaluz

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

14 February 2015

“Thank God, I’m an atheist.”

Luis Buñuel (1900-1993), Spanish film director.

 

Antigone1984:

Unfortunately, the actual words used by Buñuel were slightly less in-your-face than they are in the snappier version above. The original quote appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde on 16 December 1959: “Grâce à Dieu, je suis toujours athée” (“Thanks to God, I am still an atheist”). Still, a fair point.

——–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

Posted in Art, Cinema, France, Mexico, Religion, Spain | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gary Cooper and the Sheriff of Athens

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

9 February 2015

UNITED STATES OF EUROPE

Let’s hear it for Alan Greenspan, chairman of the US Federal Reserve (central bank) from 1987 to 2006!

Greenspan must be a happy man this afternoon. This is first time that the erstwhile overlord of the world’s most market-oriented financial system has received a plaudit from Antigone1984.

There are good reasons why we have hitherto refrained from showering Greenspan with acclaim.

In the first place, he has been an avid disciple of Ayn Rand (née Alissa Rozenbaum, 1905-1982), a Russian-born American writer and ideologue, whose ideas, ironically dubbed “objectivism”, embraced extreme self-centredness as the human ideal and supported unregulated laissez-faire capitalism. Her 1964 collection of essays, “The Virtue of Selfishness”, co-authored with Nathaniel Branden, validated egoism as a rational code of ethics, maintaining at the same time the destructiveness of altruism. Her novels, “The Fountainhead” (1943) and “Atlas Shrugged” (1957) embodied the same ideology.

 

With Rand as his guru, Greenspan was ideally suited, at least in theory, to spend nearly two decades as the capitalist world’s top banker.

However, that’s not exactly how it turned out.

The second reason why you might not expect Greenspan to feature favourably in these columns is what critics might describe as culpable complacency in his stewardship of the international monetary system.  The regulation-lite boom he allowed to flourish during his term of office paved the way for the Great Recession of 2008 to 2011.

 

BBC business correspondent Joe Lynam said yesterday 8 February 2015: “ Greenspan has been badly wrong before. He said markets (and banks in particular) would always act rationally and prevent self-destructive crashes. Then the financial crisis happened in 2008 – plunging the world into a massive recession. He did, though, admit his error.”

 

Now Greenspan has waded into the current eurozone crisis that is pitting the newly-elected left-leaning anti-austerity government of Greece against its triad of Scrooge-like creditors in Germany (the European Central Bank), Brussels (the European Commission) and Washington (the International Monetary Fund).

 

According to a report on the BBC yesterday 8 February, Greenspan has predicted the inevitability of a Greek exit from the 19-state eurozone single-currency bloc within the 28-nation European Union. He told the BBC he could not see who would be willing to put up more loans to bolster Greece’s struggling economy.

 

Greece wants to re-negotiate the austerity-linked bail-out provided so far by its creditors, but Mr Greenspan said:

 

“I don’t think it will be resolved without Greece leaving the eurozone. I believe it will eventually leave. I don’t think it helps them or the rest of the eurozone – it is just a matter of time before everyone recognises that parting is the best strategy.

 

“The problem is that there is no way that I can conceive of the euro of continuing unless and until all of the members of eurozone become politically integrated – actually even just fiscally integrating won’t do it.”

 

He warned that trying to hold the eurozone together “is putting strain on everybody”, adding that as well as Greece leaving the eurozone, there was a real risk of a “much bigger break-up” with other southern European being countries forced out.

 

Commenting, the BBC’s Joe Lynam pointed out that Greenspan has long been a critic of the European single currency (the euro).

 

“Now the 88-year-old former chairman of the US Federal Reserve has repeated a claim that nothing short of full political union – a United States of Europe – can save the euro from extinction. Given that few (if any) of the current 19 sovereign governments which make up the eurozone would choose to create such an entity at this time, that means – for Greenspan at least – the euro is doomed.”

 

In a defiant speech to the Greek parliament yesterday 8 February Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras warned that he would stick to his anti-austerity campaign pledges, which include giving free food and electricity to the poor. He also promised to cut politicians’ benefits, such as ministerial cars and said he would fight against corruption and tax avoidance.

 

Tsipras wants Greece’s creditors to provide a bridging loan that will enable the country to get by over the next few months while it renegotiates the cuts in public spending that are attached to its bail-out terms. However, so far he has come up against a brick wall in his efforts to persuade other EU member states to okay a further loan while, at the same time, loosening the corset of austerity attached to the current bail-out. Unless it is extended, the €240 billion bail-out programme will come to an end on 28 February 2015, plunging Greece into a financial black hole and bringing much closer to fulfilment Greenspan’s forecast that the country will leave the eurozone.

 

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, will have a last-minute confrontation with his fellow eurozone finance ministers this Wednesday 11 February.

 

The next day it will be High Noon in the Belgian capital when the the sheriff of Athens, Alexis Tsipras, the Gary Cooper of Greek politics, cold-shouldered by his fellow prime ministers, will ride solo into town for a shoot-out at a crunch 28-nation summit with the bad guys of the European Union.

 

Antigone1984:

 

We have focused on these remarks by Greenspan because they accord with our own long-standing views.

 

The eurozone as currently constituted is an economic nonsense. All members of the zone use the single currency known as the euro. But that is where it stops.

 

The individual member states raise their own revenue and decide their own spending. There is no automatic mechanism for distributing public resources from stronger to weaker areas within the currency zone, as there is in federal states with a single currency, such as Germany or the USA.

 

Moreover, deprived of common budgetary support in times of economic difficulty, neither can struggling members of the zone devalue their currency in order to export their way back into health. This is because the value of the euro in relation to other currencies is fixed by the market – with occasional help from the European Central Bank – at the same rate for all the countries that belong to the currency union regardless of the economic health of individual bloc members.

 

A eurozone with a central budget capable of evening out national economic disparities in the zone would solve this problem. However, a fiscal union of this kind, as Greenspan surmises (rightly in our view), would be unthinkable without the complete suppression of individual national sovereignty and its replacement by a central political body – a supranational government – to oversee it . Hence, the need for a United States of Europe – encapsulated in the goal of “ever closer union” laid down in the founding treaties of the European Union and zealously promoted by international big business (in search of an ever wider and more homogeneous market unencumbered by the vagaries of national boundaries) and its acolytes among the European political elite and their lickspittle mouthpieces in our europhiliac media (e.g. the London Guardian, France’s Le Monde or Italy’s la Repubblica).

 

That is why, paradoxically, we agree with the reasoning behind the remarks of the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve.

 

However, readers of this blog will, of course, be aware that Antigone1984 is very much opposed to the realization of a scenario that would lead to the creation of a United States of Europe. Quite the contrary. We have consistently argued in favour of the disintegration of the European Union as well as of the eurozone within it and for the reversion to a group of fully sovereign European nation states free to trade with one another as the whim takes them but with the power to direct their own economies as they see fit and to take their own political decisions in the interest of their own citizens without fear of interference from a power-crazed empire-building Eurocratic elite holed up out of touch in its Belgian ivory tower.

It is for this reason that  (Hélas Hellas!) we regard Syriza, the political party which now dominates the new coalition government in Greece, as simply a progressive social democratic party and not, despite its partly Marxist origins and its naive cheerleaders among leftwing groups elsewhere in Europe, a radical leftwing anti-capitalist anti-market party. Instead of “negotiating” to remain organically within the supposed comfort zone of the European Union and the euro currency bloc, both fundamentally capitalist constructions, a radical leftwing party could not have failed to seize this historic opportunity to break free and reclaim full national sovereignty in an economy based on cooperation, deprivatization, the egalitarian distribution of wealth and income, patriotic industrial protectionism and participative democratic decision-making. 

 

 ——-

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012) 
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Economics, Europe, Germany, Greece, Politics, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

Athens, 26 January 2015

HELLAS

“The world’s great age begins anew,

The golden years return,

The earth doth like a snake renew

Her winter weeds outworn:

Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam

Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

 

A brighter Hellas rears its mountains

 From waves serener far;

A new Peneus rolls his fountains

Against the morning star.

Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep

Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.

  

Another Athens shall arise,

And to remoter time

Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,

 The splendour of its prime;

And leave, if nought so bright may live,

All earth can take or Heaven can give.”

The above are threes stanzas from a chorus in the lyric drama “Hellas” composed by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) with a view to raising money for the Greek War of Independence (1821-1827). The work was inspired by the play “Persae” by the classical Athenian dramatist Aeschylus (525-456 BC) who fought for the Greeks in their victorious battle against the Achaemenid Persians at Marathon in 490 BC.

Taking a break from the ballyhoo of the hustings, we were sitting quietly last night in stillness of the mild mid-winter air on the outside roof-terrace of the Grande Bretagne Hotel in central Athens, switching our attention from the spotlit Acropolis to the right, the peach-coloured neo-Classical Parliament building (the Bouli) to the left and far below us a rapidly emptying Syntagma Square, the political centre of the Greek world, as rival party-political groupies took down their marquees, folded up their banners and made off into the night, some to celebrate likely victory, others to lament probable defeat after a long hard day in which the voters of Greece went to the polls to elect a new parliament.

The exit polls had just predicted a landslide victory for the left-leaning Syriza party and a crushing defeat for its main rival, the incumbent government party New Democracy.

Awakening us from our musings, the door from the restaurant to the terrace suddenly opened and a small wiry man in his late forties shot out, took a quick digital photo of the Acropolis and then went back in.

But not before he had turned to us, a demented gleam in his eye, and said in an accent that showed he could only have hailed from across the pond: “I wanted to take a photo of it while it was still standing.”

And then he was gone. But not for long. The door to the restaurant popped up again a few seconds later and out he shot again, his nose twitching, his eyes still a-glare. He had further intelligence to off-load.

“I just got back from Ukraine,” he said. “Let these guys here find out what 50 years of socialism will do.”

And with that he was gone, vanished, volatilized. Who he was, what he was doing here, why he picked on us, we shall never know.

In fact, the only thing we can say for certain about this dude is that he was not best pleased with the way the Greek election was turning out.

However, a little earlier in the evening we had a concrete example of why the left was on a roll that night.

Come evening, journalists, TV crews, photographers, party-political cadres and assorted hangers-on were camped out outside the Syriza HQ in Koumoundhourou Square in the inner-city Psyrri district not far from the Thiseio Temple waiting for the party leader Alexis Tsipras to appear and claim victory.

Meanwhile, in a darkened part of the square, only 20 metres from the entrance to the Syriza block, a sick-looking grey-haired poorly-dressed man in his mid-sixties was rummaging around in a municipal rubbish container looking desperately for something to salvage – half-empty fast food cartons, rotten half-eaten fruit, half-empty drink cans, who knows what.

There are hundreds of thousands of such unfortunates barely keeping body and soul together in today’s Greece. They are the result of six years of merciless austerity (the equivalent of “fiscal waterboarding” according to Syriza) imposed on the Greek people, with the connivance of the New Democracy government, by the hated triad of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for grudgingly conceded loans to bail out – not the people of Greece – but the Greek Banks and their international creditors.

Even a worm will turn. By yesterday the man and woman on the Greek omnibus had had enough – or at least enough of them had. Casting fear aside, the fear of the unknown that had kept them loyal for the past six years to the self-serving euro-lickspittles of the government party and its yes-man ally, the pseudo-socialist party PASOK, unprecedented numbers of Greek citizens voted for change. Merkel’s Junker, Jean-Claude Juncker , the big kahuna of the Brussels bunker, said he wanted the Greeks to return the “old familiar faces” to power. Much good did it do him. The Greeks voted for new blood and for hope. They took to heart Syriza’s campaign slogan: Soon you’ll be able to hope again (“Η ελπίδα έρχεται”).

RESULT OF GREEK PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS ON 25 JANUARY 2015

The results of yesterday’s ballot for the Greece’s 300-seat unicameral legislature – subject only to possible minor adjustment – are as follows:

Syriza (149 seats, composed of the 99 seats it actually won plus a free bonus of 50 extra seats) 36.38 % of votes cast; New Democracy (76 seats) 27.81 %; the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party(17 seats) 6.29 %; the centrist To Potami (The River) party (17 seats) 6.04 %; the KKE Communist party (15 seats) 5.50 % ; the right-leaning ANEL (Independent Greeks) party (13 seats) 4.73%; and the nominally socialist PASOK (13 seats) 4.66 %.

Other parties fell short of the three per cent threshold needed to enter parliament.

The percentage of the electorate that turned out to vote was 63.9 %.

While Syriza was far and away the biggest winner of the day, it should be noted that New Democracy’s vote held up reasonably well, with only a limited decline in both its share of the vote and the number of seats it won – leaving aside the 50 free votes, which now went to Syriza – by comparison with the previous election in June 2012 (see the 2012 figures below).

Mirroring the rise of right-wing anti-immigrant parties throughout Europe in recent years, Golden Dawn is now the third most popular party in Greece, although its share of the vote slipped slightly and it lost one MP compared with the last election. Extraordinarily, Golden Dawn MPs in the outgoing parliament, including its leader Nikos Michaloliakis, are on remand in Korydallos Prison in Piraeus awaiting criminal charges related to the party’s activities.

The johnny-come-lately policy-lite centrist party To Potami (“The River”), led by TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis, did well to gain fourth place in terms of the percentage of votes gained, having come from nowhere. Formed in February 2014, it did not stand (or perhaps we should say “flow”) in the last election.

The KKE Communist Party gained 3 seats and increased its percentage of the vote.

The big loser of the day was the pseudo-socialist party PASOK, led by Evangelos Venizelos of the historic Venizelos political dynasty, whose vote crumbled in terms of both percentage and seats. It was not helped by the fact that the pseudo-socialist vote was split. The scion of a rival PASOK dynasty, George Papandreou, who was Prime Minister of Greece from 2009 to 2011, left PASOK this month to form his own party, the Movement of Democratic Socialists. This fledgling party failed to breach the 3% threshold for eligibility to sit in parliament.

Another big loser in terms of both percentage and seats was the right-leaning ANEL (Independent Greeks) party. Paradoxically, it is with this party that the left-leaning Syriza has opted to go into coalition. Like Syriza, ANEL is said to be opposed to further austerity.

RESULT OF GREEK PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS ON 17 JUNE 2012

The following, for comparison with yesterday’s results, is an extract from our coverage of the last Greek parliamentary election on 17 June 2012 in our blog Death of Pericles: Sparta defeats Athens . The excerpt also includes an explanation of the extraordinary “50 free bonus seats” given to the party winning the highest percentage of the vote.

With almost all the votes counted in the 17 June 2012 ballot for the country’s 300-seat parliament, the result is as follows: New Democracy (129 seats, composed of the 79 seats it actually won plus a free bonus of 50 extra seats) 29.66 % of votes cast; the radical socialist party Syriza (71 seats) 26.89 %; the nominally socialist party Pasok (33 seats) 12. 28 %; the right-leaning ANEL (Independent Greeks) party (20 seats) 7.51%;  the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party(18 seats) 6.92 %; the Dimar (Democratic Left) party (17 seats) 6.25 %; and the KKE (Communist) party (12 seats) 4.50 %.

Other parties fell well short of the three per cent threshold needed to enter parliament.

The proportion of the electorate that turned out to vote was 62.47 %.

According to Greek election rules, an extra 50 seats are granted to the party winning the largest percentage of the vote. What can possibly justify this negation of democracy that makes a mockery of the ballot?

The system of voting used in Greek is, on the surface, proportional representation, that is to say, parliamentary seats are allocated on the basis of the percentage of votes cast.

So why give an extra 50 seats to the party with the highest percentage of the vote? According to Le Monde, the idea is to “stabilise the result of the proportional ballot”.

In fact, the idea is to shut out from government the smaller parties. The aim is to give the largest party – for free – enough votes to form a parliamentary majority by itself or in coalition with the next largest party. In plain language, the object is to ensure that the two big traditional parties, New Democracy and PASOK, continue to exercise a stranglehold over the government 0f Greece.

The result, moreover, is to make the ballot non-proportional.

THE WAY AHEAD

What happens now?

In yesterday’s election Syriza won 149 seats – just south of the 151 seats needed to gain an absolute majority of 151 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

Today 26 January 2015, in order to make good this narrow shortfall, the leftist party agreed to form an anti-austerity coalition with the rightist Independent Greeks (“Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες”) of ANEL, led by Panos Kammenos, a disgruntled former New Democracy MP. ANEL has 13 seats in the new parliament. On the basis of this agreement, President Karolos Papoulias, the titular head of state, asked Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to form a new government.

Fun and games assured!

These are still early days.

It is unclear:

  • how well the left-leaning Syriza and the right-wing ANEL will work together over time;
  • to what extent the hard-left factions within Syriza will accept any move towards centrist ground;
  • to what extent the European and US political and financial elites will grudgingly accept the democratic decision of the Greek people;
  • to what extent, alternatively, the European and US political and financial elites will surreptiously do all they can to thwart the new Greek government, not least out of fear that populist contagion might spread to other European states badly hit by externally imposed austerity (such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, Italy and France not being immune to popular unrest either).

For some indications as to the problems that lie ahead, readers who have not done so might care to check out the blog we posted on the eve of yesterday’s election: Soon you’ll be able to hope again(“Η ελπίδα έρχεται”).

In that blog we were concerned that Alexis Tsipras might be another Felipe González. Another comparison we might have made is with French Socialist leader François Mitterand (1916-1996), who, as President of France from 1981 to 1995, jettisoned his initial socialist commitments for the status quo of the free market. The former firebrand trade unionist Lula da Silva, who was President of Brazil from 2003 to 2011, is another example of a politician who turned moderate once in power.

However, we need not have gone so far afield to find a political figure that incarnated our concerns. A Mitterand contemporary, Andreas Papandreou (1919-1996) – father of George Papandreou (he of the Movement of Democratic Socialists that went belly up in yesterday’s election) – who was Prime Minister of Greece from 1981 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1996, followed the same political trajectory from left to right.

The jury is still out as far as Tsipras is concerned.

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AS IT APPEARED TO ENTHUSIASTS AT ITS COMMENCEMENT

[A poem by the English poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) composed in 1805 and published in 1809]

 “Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!

For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood

Upon our side, we who were strong in love!

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,

In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways

Of custom, law, and statute, took at once

The attraction of a country in romance!

When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,

When most intent on making of herself

A prime Enchantress—to assist the work

Which then was going forward in her name!

Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth,

The beauty wore of promise, that which sets

(As at some moment might not be unfelt

Among the bowers of paradise itself )

The budding rose above the rose full blown.

What temper at the prospect did not wake

To happiness unthought of? The inert

Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!

They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,

The playfellows of fancy, who had made

All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength

Their ministers,—who in lordly wise had stirred

Among the grandest objects of the sense,

And dealt with whatsoever they found there

As if they had within some lurking right

To wield it;—they, too, who, of gentle mood,

Had watched all gentle motions, and to these

Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more wild,

And in the region of their peaceful selves;—

Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty

Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire,

And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish;

Were called upon to exercise their skill,

Not in Utopia, subterranean fields,

Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!

But in the very world, which is the world

Of all of us,—the place where in the end

We find our happiness, or not at all!”

 

 Bliss was it indeed – the doubts born of experience being temporarily cast aside – to be alive in Athens at dawn today on the sun-kissed morning of 26 January 2015 – the sky a cerulean blue, the Mediterranean at Piraeus a subway ride away, the temperature heading for a warm sun at noon, lemons and oranges on every branch, palm-trees here, yukkas there and now and again a prickly cactus – a mere twelve hours after the Greek people had revolted against their own Ancien Régime.

As the new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in his victory speech last night outside Athens University: “Today the Greece of the oligarchs, of the elite, of the cover-ups was defeated. Victory was for the Greece that strives, that hopes.”

Fingers crossed!

Watch this space!

——–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

Posted in Economics, Europe, Germany, Greece, Literature, Luxembourg, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Η ελπίδα έρχεται

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

Reminder: At the end of our post Grecian urns on 20 January 2015, we listed a selection of previous posts from our coverage of the last Greek general election in June 2012. We cannot stress too highly the extent to which these posts are still relevant today, virtually nothing essential having changed in the meantime. Accordingly, we would recommend readers wanting a more in-depth analysis of the issues to check out the posts in question. It seems pointless to write out the same thing again now for a second time. The elections tomorrow are essentially a re-run of the June 2012 elections. For those short of time, two of the posts we single out for particular attention: Felipe González crystallizes our doubts, from a leftwing viewpoint, about Syriza and Age: drachma 300 years, euro 10 years sets out a case for jettisoning the euro.

Athens, 24 January 2015

Soon you’ll be able to hope again (“Η ελπίδα έρχεται”): it is with this slogan that the left-leaning Syriza party is heading, doubtless hopefully, into tomorrow’s crucial general election.

Syriza was formed in 2004 as an alliance of 13 anti-establishment groups, including democratic socialists, leftwing populists, red greens, Maoists, Trotskyists, eurocommunists, eurosceptics and disestablishment orthodox Christians. The name Syriza (“ΣΥΡΙΖΑ” in Greek capitals) is an acronym of the initial letters of its full name in Greek (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς), which means “Coalition of the Radical Left”.

Europe’s motley crew of far left, hard left, real left parties – which Antigone1984 broadly supports – are pinning massive hopes on a win for Syriza tomorrow in the expectation that the resulting momentum for the left will spin off into other countries across the continent. Pablo Iglesias, leader of Spain’s radical Podemus (“We can”) party, which is the offspring of the earlier Indignados street protest movement, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras at the latter’s closing pre-election rally in Omonia Square in central Athens on Thursday.

However, if Syriza wins tomorrow, these leftist groupings now cheering on their Greek counterparts are going to be massively disappointed.

If it loses, of course, they are going to be even more disappointed.

The puzzling thing about history is that it repeats itself endlessly and yet nobody learns anything from it.

Can no one now remember the razzmatazz that surrounded Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign when he successful wowed the masses with his slogan “Yes, we can”? He had hardly gotten into office in January 2009 when it became clear that “No, he couldn’t”. As political theorist Noam Chomsky once said in a TV interview, “Obama, he’s worse than Bush.”

As former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who died this month, once said: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

Or as a political analyst said of Harold Wilson, UK Labour Prime Minister (1964-1970 and 1974-1976) on the very day of one of his election victories. “The Labour Party will now systematically set about betraying each and every one of the pledges it made during the election campaign.” And so it came to pass.

According to the opinion polls, which published their final assessments yesterday, Syriza is the clear favourite to come out on top tomorrow as the leading party. For instance, a poll for Vergina TV put Syriza on 30.1 % of the vote as opposed to 24.6 % for New Democracy, the conservative majority party in the current government.

However, it is not at all clear that, even if it gets the most votes, Syriza will win enough seats to have an absolute majority (at least 151 seats) in Greece’s 300-seat unicameral legislature. If, as result, it decides to go into coalition with opposing parties, expect a tangible watering-down of the radicalism in its programme for government.

In any case, elections are by definition unpredictable. One should not count one’s chickens before they are hatched (not to coin a phrase).

UK readers will well remember the referendum in September 2014 giving the voters of Scotland the opportunity to end the country’s 300-year-old union with Great Britain. The meticulously organized Scottish National Party had the wind behind its sails through out the campaign. It lost the vote.

Brussels has, unsurprisingly, intervened heavy-handedly in the Greek elections, making it clear that it prefers the incumbent government to any johnny-come-lately party. The arch-reactionary President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said openly that he wants to see the “old familiar faces” voted back into power in tomorrow’s elections in Greece.

The Greek political establishment has been up to another trick. It has been clear to them for some time that the two parties which have implemented in Greece the externally imposed austerity programme – conservative New Democracy and pseudo-socialist PASOK – have been losing supporters as a result.

So what wheeze have they thought up?

Two new parties without any history or any distinctive policies – in fact, clones of New Democracy and PASOK, have suddenly been magicked up out of nothing in the hope that they will suck up non-left voters disenchanted with the two older parties.

One party is the Movement of Democratic Socialists led by George Papandreou, Greek Prime Minister from 2009 to 2011, who left PASOK to form the new grouping as recently as the beginning of this month.

The other goes by the ridiculous name of The River (Το Ποτάμι). It was formed in February 2014 by TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis. Said to be inspired by social democracy and liberalism (yes, both of them!!), it hopes to hoover up the votes of disgruntled centre-right voters.

New Democracy – highly unpopular as representing the face of the austerity that has brought Greeks to their knees – has also been throwing the book at Syriza.

This is what the International New York Times says in its weekend edition today:

“Newspapers and television stations, under the control of Greece’s oligarchs, have fed people a diet of frightening stories about what would happen should Mr Tsipras prevail; he leads in the polls right now.

“His victory would mark the first time that a Eurozone country would be led by a noncentrist government, and columnists warn on a regular basis that his ideas and inexperience could have dire consequences for Greece…

“Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s latest television commercial resembles a wartime newsreel, predicting that a Tsipras victory will bring mobs to the streets by April, bank closings and medicine shortages by May. On Thursday, Sofia Voultepsi, a candidate for Mr Samaras’s center-right party, New Democracy, suggested on a morning talk show that Greeks should stock up on toilet paper.”

According to the newspaper, a New Democracy candidate, upping the ante, told a well-heeled audience of supporters at an upscale hotel recently that the country’s fate was in the balance and that “the choice they made would determine whether Greece stayed in the European Union or was taken over by ‘communists’.”

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

As it happens, we observed an impressive rally by the increasingly ignored Greek Communist Party (known as the KKE from its Greek initials) in city-centre Syntagma Square on Thursday. By talking to participants, we found the answer to a question that had been puzzling us since the last Greek general election in June 2012: given that it would be hard to visualize a party more to the right than New Democracy, why was the KKE refusing to ally itself with Syriza?

The answer confirmed the doubts we had had about Syriza when we wrote about it two and half years ago in our blog post Felipe González mentioned above.

“We Communists want to get out of the capitalist system, Syriza wants to work within it,” they said.

Antigone1984 finds this explanation the key to understanding much that appears puzzling about what Syriza represents, particularly if you buy the line, widely swallowed by leftwing groups outside Greece, that it is an “anti-capitalist” party.

One puzzle is why Syriza has not opted to leave the German-policed eurozone and resume control of its own currency by reverting to the drachma. See Age: drachma 300 years, euro 10 years also mentioned above. It is claimed that the Greek people do not want to give up the euro. But how independent are the polls that provide evidence for this? See our post Smelling a rat .

Come to that, one might also ask why Syriza will not go the whole hog and leave the European Union as well. Does Greece want to stay trampled for ever under the jackboots of Merkel and Juncker, Draghi and Lagarde?

The European Union is a centralized market-subservient economic organization with some add-on environmental and social policies, which in any case are being rapidly watered down as the tightening strait jacket of “ever closer union” removes the need to pay lip-service to non-market interests. Witness the ongoing negotiations, backed by all 28 EU governments despite widespread popular opposition, to forge a free trade agreement – the notorious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – between the EU and the USA (the instigator of the talks, the dominant partner and the likely chief beneficiary). The aim is to tip the balance away from democratic regulation of markets by sovereign governments and towards a giant intercontinental economy dominated not by small firms (the key business model in Greece) but by giant global mega-corporations. Disputes between democratically elected governments and corporate behemoths would be decided by special supranational business courts biased towards the unregulated private market.

If Syriza were a genuinely party of the far left, would it not leap at the chance to throw down the gauntlet once and for all to the privateering European establishment and, in doing so, set an example for other similar parties the length and breadth of the continent?

But no. They are going to remain within the EU, they are going to remain within the eurozone, and they are going to negotiate “firmly but politely” with whoever will talk to them in the Eurocrat establishment – but not with the hated triad (euphemistically called the “troika) of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that imposed the hated austerity “memorandum” on Greece. They do not seem to realize that the European Commission and the European Central Bank are part of the European establishment and even the managing director of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, is a French politician.

Negotiations with the Eurocrats? They will smother you with open arms. These guys are the past masters of negotiations. They could negotiate the hind legs off a donkey. It will be like wading through treacle. As members of new party from a peripheral country with no experience of government, Syriza’s negotiators will be like minnows in a pond of piranhas. At best they will dance circles round you, at worst they will tear you to pieces. Good luck!

Timing is also crucial. If elected with a working majority, Syriza will be up against it straight away. Its supporters will be expecting the earth from it. Immediately and with no excuses. If it is not seen to have offered the Greek people concrete benefits within, we would say, three months at most, then support will evaporate in a trice like morning dew on a summer lawn. Syriza’s interlocutors in the various negotiations will be aware of this and so may well arrange to string things out.

In a current article on Syriza, Wikipedia quotes Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza Member of the European Parliament and one of its vice-presidents, as saying that Greece should “be a respectable member of the European Union and the eurozone” and that “there is absolutely no case for a Grexit [a Greek exit from the eurozone]”. It would not be the first time that a radical became euro-lobotomised after hitching a ride on the European gravy train.

Now let’s try take a look at Syriza’s programme for government.

The principal plank of the programme appears to be to negotiate a write-off of up to half of Greek public debt plus a rescheduling of the remaining loans and interest payments.

Paradoxically, the party also proposes to terminate the social austerity policies that Greece’s creditors have imposed on the country in recent years in exchange for bailing it out. For example, food stamps and free or subsidized electricity are to be provided lickety-split for the poorest Greeks.

However, some aspects of Syriza’s programme are so anodyne that any political party of any persuasion could agree to them, such as ending tax evasion, stamping out corruption and money laundering, ending cronyism in the jobs market, cutting red tape and helping small businesses.

Some policies are genuinely progressive but only to an extent that would be acceptable to any half-decent social democratic party, e.g. reforming the tax system so that the rich pay more than the poor, raising unemployment benefit, freezing wage reductions, halting pension cuts and reversing cuts in the minimum wage.

It seems abundantly clear to us, then, that the KKE is right.

Syriza is not an anti-capitalist party but a moderate pro-EU pro-Euro social democratic party.

That is why it is misguided of the European Left to have become so worked up about the outcome of this election.

In recent years European economies and governments have moved steadily towards the right – and that includes the pseudo-socialist governments, such as that of François Hollande in France and Matteo Renzi in Italy. It is understandable, therefore, that the genuine European left should snatch eagerly at any crumbs of comfort that fall their way. Hence, the rosy spectacles trained on Syriza.

Antigone1984, for its part, is very much opposed to political optimism for which there is no basis in fact. One gets a whiff of this in the recourse of the Italian Communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) to “optimism of the will” when faced with “pessimism of the intellect”. The sainted British Labour Party leftwinger Tony Benn (1925-2014) was another notorious exponent of culpable optimism. We remember him telling a meeting in Brussels during the catastrophic 1984-1985 UK mineworkers’ strike that “we [the left] have won” when it was already blindingly obvious that we had lost big-time. Think also of the legendary prediction by Spanish Communist leader Dolores Ibárruri (1895-1989) at the start of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939): “¡No pasarán! [They shall not get through!] she said of the advancing forces of the rightist insurgent Francisco Franco. To which the subsequently victorious Franco is said to have retorted: ¡Ya hemos pasado! [We have already got through!].

At Antigone1984 we prefer to call a spade a spade, not a shovel.

However, shovels or spades, they have their uses. Which is why, despite our reservations, we are wholeheartedly in favour of a Syriza victory tomorrow. After all, half a loaf is better than no bread. The long-suffering Greek people need some slack. Let’s hope they get it.

——–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

Posted in China, Economics, Europe, Greece, Politics, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terminal desert

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

Athens, Friday 23 January 2014

We got a first-hand taster of the economic basket-case that is Greece when we forsook the icy north and hightailed it to Athens, rocking up in the gloaming on Wednesday 21 February 2015.

Oh, yes, the dusk temperature that welcomed us as we stepped out on to the tarmac in Europe’s deep south was certainly everything we expected – a mild 18° C reflected in the ripe fruit on the city’s orange trees – but Eleftherios Venizelos airport initially brought us up sharp.

Wikipedia says that, with up to 16 million passengers using it per annum, Athens airport is the 31st busiest airport in the world.

Not on Wednesday night it wasn’t.

Think rather the airports at Bangui or Nouakchott.

The vast sleek ultra-modern aerodrome opened in 2001 three months after Greece was admitted to the eurozone on 1 January 2001 when there was hardly a cloud on the economic horizon.

[It was only later that it emerged that the strict economic criteria theoretically required for admission to the eurozone were tweaked in Greece’s favour by collusion between the Greek finance ministry and expansionist Eurocrats in Brussels. If the rules had been correctly applied, it seems that Greece would not have been admitted – and all the trouble that has ensued as a result might well not have been!]

After leaving our Aegean Airlines aircraft, we walked along silent corridor after silent corridor and through empty hall after empty hall. The airport was like a giant public building in a ghost town. We encountered no other travellers and hardly any officials. The carousels in baggage-reclaim were still and the public concourse on the national side of customs was virtually deserted.

This was not the thronged and bustling Athens airport we had known as recently as 2012 – even though the recession had started four years earlier – when we came to Greece for the last parliamentary election.

Then, despite their troubles, the Greeks had been biting chins-up on the bullet. Now, if the plight of the airport can be taken as a metaphor for the Greek economy, it seems that any attempt to give keep up appearances has been abandoned.

Another anecdotal sign of the times came when we pitched up for dinner later that evening at Vlassis, our favourite Athens restaurant, in the inner-city district of Ilissia. Whenever we have been there in the past, it has always been well-nigh full of diners. On Wednesday night it was only one quarter full.

We asked the owner how he had fared over the two years of non-stop austerity that Greece has suffered since the last election.

Two years ago, as we reported at the time, like the airport, he had been doing fine, his well-heeled bourgeois clientele having braved the early years of recession without undue discomfort. However, you can only take so much. Now things were different. “They still come to eat,” he said. “But instead of spending 50 or 60 euros on a meal, they now spend only 30.”

And it is not only small businesses that are feeling the pinch. An employee at the Grande Bretagne hotel, the Grande Dame of the Athenian hospitality industry, admitted to us last night that, unsurprisingly, its business had taken a hit during the downturn. That seemed obvious as we cast our eyes around the eighth floor rooftop restaurant in city-centre Syndagma Square overlooking the apricot-coloured parliament building (the “Bouli”) and enjoying an unrivalled view of the illuminated Acropolis outcrop nearby. Hitherto, as with Vlassis, this classy watering-hole has always been packed to the gills with customers, but when we rolled up on Thursday night there were only a handful of clients.

However, these are just personal impressions and the statistics – if they can be believed – are beginning to show a different story.

According to yesterday’s edition of Kathimerini, a leading national daily, “Greek tourism enjoyed a golden year in 2014, as both arrivals and revenues reached an all-time high.” This conclusion is based on provisional figures released by the Bank of Greece for the first eleven months of the year.

According to other official statistics, the Greek economy is said to have grown by 0.7 % in 2014 – the first annual increase since the recession began. In 2015 it is claimed that the growth will be nearly 3 % . However, this has to be seen against the perspective that economic output fell by a quarter during the recession.

The total percentage of the workforce without jobs is  25 %. However, unemployment has hit young people hardest, with almost 60 % of the workforce aged between 18 and 25 lacking a job. The average wage is only € 600 a month (the equivalent of £450 or $690).

Greek public debt is € 300 billion or  175 % of GDP.  By comparison, in 2001 the ratio was 102 %. That was the year in which Greece adopted the euro. Much good did it do them!

With the economy on the ropes and tax revenues consequently inadequate to meet the country’s spending requirements, in recent years Greece has had to go cap in hand to a triad of international usurers – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – to secure a series of bail-out loans totalling € 240 billion. In exchange, the triad got the Greek government to agree to slash public spending (eg on pensions), raise taxes (eg on property) and privatise huge swathes of state assets (eg part of the Port of Piraeus, which was flogged off to the Chinese). Hardly surprisingly, instead of returning the Greek economy to health, the result was to intensify the recession. The final € 7.2 billion tranche of the bail-out is on hold pending agreement on funding conditions between the triad and whatever government emerges from the general election on Sunday.

Maybe there is now a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. However, with a close-fought parliamentary election round the corner, one should perhaps be wary of official data promising jam tomorrow.

So much for a skimpy impressionistic sketch of the economic climate in which the election will be fought on Sunday 25 January 2015. Our next blog will deal with the politics.

 ——–

 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012) 
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

——-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Economics, Europe, Greece, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment