The day after the rescue

Amid cracks in the global order, the Greek left faces new challenges

Paul Mason
I am glad Greece has exited the Third Memorandum. But the closest metaphor I can think of is the case of the man released from prison into the same environment that made him commit the crime, to be immediately surrounded by drug dealers and Mafiosi offering him help.
Greece will never repay its debt mountain. Though the burden of servicing it may be lessened now, ultimately other EU governments decided to save the private banks and shoulder the debt: the debt should be substantially restructured and the Greek government should resume attempts to declare a portion of it odious.
 
Meanwhile north European corporations whose governments mandated privatisation are clustered around Greece’s prime assets; Chinese, Russian and other money from less regulated parts of the world is flowing into Greece, not always through translucent channels.
 
Meanwhile most of the old problems remain.
The question of whether Greece could have won by defying the Troika in June 2015 haunts those of us who covered, and sympathised with, the attempt to break out of the Eurozone’s neoliberal straitjacket. The answer always depended on whether enough people in Greek civil society were prepared to risk chaos, civil conflict and national bankruptcy to defy the Troika. 
 
On the night Alexis Tsipras addressed the massive crowd in Syntagma I thought they were. Later it became clear that even some of the most committed activists of the left were not prepared to risk everything.
 
The main fault lies squarely with the IMF, ECB and the Commission. It must also, ultimately, lie with the political leadership of Syriza who failed to communicate their strategy to the mass of Greek people until it was too late, failed to build a movement inside civil society and inexplicably failed to remove key agents of the Troika inside the Greek governance system.
 
As to question of whether Syriza should have stayed in power, or handed power back to the oligarchs and incompetents of New Democracy? In the atmosphere of recrimination during 2015-16 it is clear to me that the neoliberal right in Greece would have a) tried to jail key politicians of the left b) launched a vicious crackdown on the wider left in civil society and c) adopt the same approach to the refugees fleeing Syria that Matteo Salvini has now adopted in Italy. I believe it was this understanding that, in September 2015, led the Greek people to the Syriza/ANEL coaltion once again.
 
But by remaining in power, acting as what the British left called a “dented shield” against the blows of international capital, Syriza has hollowed itself out as a movement. It has also, as the Mati fire demonstrated, failed to address the systemic problems of corruption, planlessness and informality that plague Greek society.
 
With hindsight, the Greek crisis of 2015 was the first of numerous cracks that have opened up in the global order. The refugee influx created tensions within Europe that could, even now, push German politics decisively to the right, as it has in Austria. Soon afterwards came Brexit, then Trump. Trump, in turn, has taken a wrecking ball to the multilateral rules-based order.
 
While the Greek people have been dealing with, and mesmerised by, the worst man-made depression in modern economic history, the world has changed dramatically.
 
Greece is on a twin geopolitical front line: between NATO and Russia, and between the crazed authoritarian project of Erdogan and the rest of the world.
 
As recent events have shown, this is probably even more strategically dangerous than the 2015 crisis.
 
The centrifugal forces inside the EU are so great that I do not believe it will survive in its current form. It is no longer a problem of the Euro, and its flawed construction. Trump wants to turn the EU into a fragmented pavement on which he and Putin play hopscotch: the more cracks the better. 
 
So one of the most important questions for the Greek left, as it evolves, is an honest assessment of the compromises it needs to make to stay inside the EU. Being outside it, I would argue, is for now much more dangerous than it would have been in the Spring/Summer of 2015.
 
Meanwhile the global left and progressive movements have gone through further evolutions. The horizontalist activists of 2011 are now to be found in the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, the Corbyn movement in Britain, and generally trying to renew and unite left parties throughout the developed world. 
 
While the Greek left was learning how painful it can be to hold state power, the rest of the global left was learning to want state power. Because Trump, and the emergence of a xenophobic Conservatism around Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and the swing by Austria’s conservatives into an alliance with neofascism all show us that, without state power, the way lies open for the authoritarian nationalist right to kill Western democracy. 
 
The threat of an alliance of fascism with right-moving bourgeois conservatism is growing in many developed countries and – whatever their mistakes and antagonisms the street movements, the radical left and the centre left need to unite together to fight it.

Paul Mason is a journalist, film maker and author. He was Economics Editor of Channel 4 News and BBC Two's Newsnight programme.
2018-08-20 19:44:01
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