The Greek Referendum: Say No to Austerity, Break with Capitalism
The Greek crisis is approaching a denouement. This marks a turning point for the working class of Greece and the whole of Europe. Last January Greece voted for a government that promised to end the austerity policies that have ruined the country. The election of Syriza gave hope to many people throughout Europe. But precisely for this reason, the political leaders in Brussels and Berlin decided to crush the new government, to humiliate it, to sabotage it and finally to bring about its overthrow.
[Statement of the International Marxist Tendency]
The present crisis has clearly the character of a deliberate provocation. One week ago the differences between the two sides were said to be minimal. Alexis Tsipras made many concessions to satisfy the so-called Institutions. There was talk of a deal. But then, suddenly, the IMF put its boot through the whole thing. New conditions were imposed – conditions that were impossible for the Greeks to accept. This was a blatant provocation designed to put the Greek government in an impossible position and cause the breakdown of the talks or the fall of the government.
It is impossible to escape the conclusion: the European bankers and capitalists have decided to carry out REGIME CHANGE IN ATHENS, using bond markets and banks instead of rockets and bombs. But the end result would be the same. If there is a YES vote on Sunday the vultures hope that they will get rid of the Syriza government, that Tsipras will resign and there will be some sort of “National Unity” government that will go down on its knees, hold out the begging bowl like Oliver Twist and say “please, Sir, I want some more”.
Given this position, the option of a referendum was really the only choice left open to Tsipras. The Troika (let us call them by their right name) presented Greece with an ultimatum which amounts to abandoning the January 25 mandate of the Syriza government. But that was the democratic decision of the Greek people. The only response is that the people deliver a democratic verdict through a referendum.
The Troika first tried to prevent the referendum from taking place, and when it failed, it resorted to economic sabotage, forcing the banks to close, threatening people with starvation and trying by all means to create a mood of fear and panic, which they hope will favour a YES vote.
The vicious and provocative behaviour of the Troika, which is blatantly interfering in the sovereign affairs of a country, telling the people of Greece how to vote and shamelessly blackmailing them by cutting off the lifeblood of the banks, exposes the real, reactionary nature of the European Union for all to see. Behind the façade of “European Democracy” and “Solidarity” lies the dictatorship of the banks and big business. All the rest is a fraud and a lie.
The question of the referendum is of course a question of democracy. But it also goes to show the limits of bourgeois democracy. Under capitalism people can vote for whoever they like, as long as the bankers decide what happens. The people of Greece voted for Syriza and the democratically elected government attempted to resist the blackmail of the unelected “Institutions” that rule the EU. Now these unelected people are determined to prevent the people from expressing their will in a referendum. They want to use their economic power to overthrow the Syriza government.
By its actions the Troika has declared war on the Greek people. They would like to intimidate them into surrendering without firing a shot. That would be the meaning of a YES vote on Sunday. They are calculating that if the YES wins Tsipras will have to resign, or else carry out a programme of cuts that would completely discredit him. They have been secretly plotting with leaders of the Greek Opposition to form a “government of National Unity” (splitting Syriza in the process). That would amount to a de facto coup.
If they succeed, they will be encouraged to press for even harsher measures against Greece. They will loot and plunder it through forced privatizations. They will steal its land, its islands and its treasures. They will squeeze it until it is dry and when finally there is nothing left to extract, they will not hesitate to throw Greece on the rubbish heap.
Greek society is now sharply divided into two camps. On the one side stand the Greek oligarchy, the bankers, the capitalists and the big shipping magnates together with their political representatives and the Orthodox Church. Behind these stand the European capitalists and bankers.
On the other side stand the Greek workers, the pensioners, unemployed and the youth, together with the trade unionists and parties of the Left. Nobody can be neutral in this struggle. The IMT and its Greek section, the Communist Tendency of Syriza, stand firmly on the side of the NO vote, which represent all the living forces of Greek society.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has taken a completely mistaken approach to the referendum, one which has nothing in common with Leninism. While it makes a number of valid and justified criticisms of the government, which considers the referendum as just a way of getting a better deal at the negotiating table, it then calls for people to spoil their ballot.
This is a very serious mistake. At a time when Greek society is extremely polarised on clear class lines, the KKE leaders choose to abstain. It is perfectly possible to vote NO to the ultimatum of the Troika (which is the question being asked in the referendum) while continuing to campaign against austerity, against concessions made by the government and for a clear socialist alternative to capitalism.
Media campaign designed to provoke panic
Prompted by their bosses in Brussels and Berlin, the Greek ruling class is carrying on a dirty campaign intended to cause panic in the middle class and push them to vote YES out of fear. The media campaign is based on lies, economic blackmail, threats to workers by employers and sabotage of the economy. This is a kind of economic terrorism, and like all terrorism, its intention is to intimidate and frighten people, forcing them to do things they would not do of their own free will.
The Troika is attempting to determine the result of the referendum. It reasons like this: if people think this is a referendum about austerity (which it is) they will vote NO, therefore we need to make them think that the choice is between growth, jobs and democracy on one hand; economic chaos, radicalism and the Seven Plagues of Egypt on the other side.
Tsipras rightly complains about the scandalous one-sided media campaign. The so-called free press in Greece, like everywhere else, is controlled by the bankers and capitalists and faithfully carry out their orders. They are whipping up a hysterical campaign intended to sow fear and panic and thus drive people into the YES camp. This is the other arm of the economic terrorism by which Merkel and her Greek stooges are trying to obtain a YES vote and then overthrow the democratically elected government.
How can the people of Greece accept the scandalous impositions of an unelected gang of bankers and capitalists and their agents? The ultimatum is the continuation of the vicious austerity policies of the last four years of Memoranda. They have wrecked the Greek economy and reduced its people to beggary. Moreover, their plans have failed and the deficit is bigger than ever. These policies were supposed to reduce debt to manageable levels and produce economic recovery. Instead, they have produced more recession and debt is around 180% of GDP and increasing. Now they want to inflict even more pain on Greece.
The whole experience of the last five years shows very clearly what these so-called Institutions want. They will not make concessions which amount to allowing Syriza to implement an anti-austerity programme in favour of working people. The previous offer was an insult intended to humiliate the Greek people and its democratically elected government. It was a clear attempt to destabilise and overthrow the government.
A negotiated deal?
Alexis Tsipras says that a NO vote will strengthen his hand for new negotiations with the Troika. But that is a naïve hope. Merkel has made it abundantly clear that no further negotiations are on offer. Schäuble has said quite clearly that he will not deal with Tsipras and does not trust Syriza. In other words, they want to install a new government in Athens that will do whatever they want.
There is a fundamental contradiction between the anti-austerity mandate of January 25 and the interests of European bankers and capitalists. They will not allow Syriza to rule on the basis of its programme. They are attempting to remove this government by all means and at any cost.
The next offer (if there is one) will certainly be no better than the last. Therefore, it is completely utopian to imagine that a victory for the NO vote will enable Tsipras to obtain a better deal through negotiations. That would be like trying to persuade a tiger to eat salad. If the NO wins they will cut off all supply of money (as the ECB is already doing) and push Greece out of the Eurozone. That will have very serious consequences for the Eurozone and the world economy. But it seems that Merkel and the others are determined to press ahead.
The leader of Syriza says that if there is a strong NO vote, the next day he will be in Brussels and will sign an agreement. But the “Institutions” will not and cannot make an offer which allows for the implementation of Syriza's programme. Making concessions to them is useless. For every step back Tsipras makes they will demand ten more. It is not possible to reconcile irreconcilable contradictions, any more than it is possible to square the circle.
Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's finance minister argues that there is no legal mechanism for expelling a country from the Eurozone. He is quite right, but that makes not the slightest difference. The leaders of the Eurozone are merely well-dressed bandits and appeals to legality have never been known to prevent a bandit from cutting a man’s throat and stealing his wallet. These are the very same people who expelled Varoufakis from the Eurogroup meeting!
Unless the leaders of Syriza are prepared to surrender completely, and thus commit political suicide, the most likely outcome if there is a NO vote is therefore the exclusion of Greece from the Euro.
A return to the Drachma?
The main argument of the Greek media, echoing their masters in Berlin and Brussels, is that the referendum is really a vote of YES or No to membership of the Eurozone and the European Union. They paint an apocalyptic picture of what a Greek exit (or “Grexit” to use the current neologism) would mean. But this overlooks the small detail that those who are agitating about a threatening catastrophe are themselves responsible for the present catastrophe into which Greece has been plunged.
The events of recent months prove that the EU is a capitalist club – government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. The policy of its leaders is a policy of permanent austerity. If Greece remains in the Eurozone, its future will be a continuation of what you have had for the past five years, but getting worse all the time. The fact is that Greece can never pay these monstrous debts. They will hang around its neck for decades like a heavy stone.
The only hope for Syriza is that it draws the necessary conclusions from what is happening. It is futile to hope that Merkel and Juncker can be persuaded to be kind to Greece. The people of Greece are at war with the bankers and capitalists of Europe, and there can be no truce in such a war. In the end one class must win and the other must lose. And may God help the loser!
It was the Troika with its relentless imposition of a cruel austerity policy that pushed the Greek economy into an abyss of mass unemployment, poverty, wage and pension cuts, suicides and desperation. It is the only time in history where such a depression has been deliberately exacerbated by governments and financial institutions.
Some people have argued that if Greece is pushed out of the Euro this could eventually provide a solution to its economic problems. That is naïve in the extreme, not to say irresponsible. The question would still remain: what kind of an economy, run by whom and on the interests of whom?
Let us assume that the new currency is called the drachma. What will happen to it? It will fall like a stone because nobody will want to hold it. That will cause prices to rise steeply, even hyper-inflation, as in Germany in 1923. People’s savings will be wiped out. There will be a deep slump and even more unemployment.
Moreover, if Greece is forced out of the Euro, it will also find itself out of the European Union. The European bourgeois will not want to see its markets invaded by Greek goods made cheaper by the inevitable fall of the drachma (or whatever other currency is chosen). It will be necessary to take very drastic measures in order to avoid an economic catastrophe. Half measures will be useless. One cannot cure cancer with an aspirin.
At present the majority do not control. It is the bankers and capitalists – both Greek and foreign – who control everything. They are not interested in the problems of the Greek people, only in the profits they can squeeze from the workers, the pensioners and the poor people.
If the people of Greece want to take back their destinies into their own hands they must tell the government to confiscate the wealth of the oligarchs and expropriate the banks and large businesses. Then you can begin to control the economy and run it in the interests of the needs of the majority, not the profits of a tiny minority of wealthy thieves and parasites.
The root cause of the economic crisis, mass unemployment, wars and poverty is the fact that the capitalist system has reached its limits and is no longer able to develop the productive forces as it did in the past. A fundamental change is needed. The only solution is socialism.
What is the alternative?
The IMT wholeheartedly supports the people of Greece in their just struggle. We call on you to vote NO on Sunday. Vote NO to cuts and austerity! Vote NO to impositions and blackmail! Vote NO to the attempt to make the workers pay for the crisis of capitalism!
All the living forces of Greek society will fight for the NO this Sunday. But that will not be enough. A victory for the NO vote in itself solves nothing. On a capitalist basis there is no future for Greece – inside or outside the European Union. In order to break with austerity a radical break with capitalism is needed.
The question arises: what then? In order to prevent the catastrophe that now threatens Greece, SYRIZA must make up its mind to take defensive actions: nationalise the banks without compensation, introduce a state monopoly of foreign trade. There must be state intervention to control the distribution of food, medicines and other basic necessities in order to guarantee supplies and prevent hoarding and speculation.
It should take steps to revoke the broadcasting licences of media which deliberately spread false information and cause panic. Some of these are in fact operating without a license. These measures must be backed up by workers' direct initiative: occupation of the banks, factories and the media under workers' control. Form action committees for the NO in every workplace and neighbourhood – to win the referendum and begin to take control of industry and society to prevent sabotage and chaos.
Above all, it is imperative that Greece should not be isolated internationally. No trust can be placed in the governments of Russia and China that represent the interests of their own oligarchies. Instead what is necessary is an appeal for international solidarity of working people in Spain, Italy and other European nations.
This is a problem not just for Greece but for the whole of Europe. Everywhere the bankers and capitalists are attacking living standards and workers’ rights. What is needed is a United Front of all anti-capitalist forces in Europe to fight to defend jobs, rights and living standards. But that is not enough. We must fight for the overthrow of this reactionary Europe of the bankers and capitalists.
An appeal by Greece to the workers of Europe – its only real allies – can only succeed if it is accompanied with bold anti-capitalist measures. All over Europe the workers are suffering attacks on living standards. That is precisely why Merkel and her gang could not allow Greece to defeat their programme of permanent austerity, because of the example it would set for the working people of Spain, Italy and every other European country.
In Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and France, even in Britain, people are looking to what happens in Greece. Syriza could provide a rallying-point for the Left in Europe, but only on one condition: that it takes bold measures against the capitalists and bankers. That would lay the basis for a mass movement of solidarity throughout Europe that would transform the whole situation.
A resounding victory for a NO to austerity in this referendum would be the first step in an all-European fightback against austerity. But it is only a first step. The anti-austerity programme of Syriza can only be implemented by a radical break with capitalism.
But if the government allows itself to be bullied into making a deal that amounts to capitulation, it will have a depressing effect on the rest of Europe. That is what Merkel and co. are betting on. They want Syriza to carry out a programme of cuts and austerity that would discredit it in the eyes of the masses. Then they will say to the workers of Greece and the whole of Europe: “You see what happens when the Left gets into power?” They will use Greece as a warning to other anti-austerity and left wing movements in Spain and other countries.
The gap between privileged and non-privileged is becoming wider all across Europe. The events of recent months prove beyond any shadow of doubt that the European Union is an institution set up by the rich and for the rich. Its policy is one of permanent austerity. The only democratic Europe would be a socialist federation of European states. It is high time that the European Left broke with capitalism and inscribed on its banner: