[P2P-F] Fwd: [NetworkedLabour] Gindin and Panitch (from Athens): A Real Plan B

Michel Bauwens michel at p2pfoundation.net
Fri Jul 17 15:04:39 CEST 2015

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Date: Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 4:04 PM
Subject: [NetworkedLabour] Gindin and Panitch (from Athens): A Real Plan B
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Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 1145
July 17, 2015
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  The Real Plan B:
The New Greek Marathon
 Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch

In the face of being excluded from desperately needed funds and the threat
of being kicked out of the European Union, the Greek parliament has now
voted to accept the Troika memorandum
The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras acknowledged – unlike social
democrats *choosing* to implement neoliberalism as part of their
‘modernization‘ – that this was ‘a bad deal’ forced on the Greeks. Syriza's
MPs were divided although three quarters of them followed Tsipras and voted
yes. Outside in Syntagma Square thousands of angry demonstrators gathered
and then marched through downtown Athens, this time the ‘NO’ being reserved
for rejecting the memorandum. There is a strong current of dissent in the
Syriza party Central Committee, which has yet to meet. Yet there is also a
general sense we get from party members and supporters at all levels we
have talked with here that the government should be supported and continue
in office.

In the face of these divisions and frustrations, what if anything might be
done to revive and continue Syriza's struggle against neoliberalism? And
since neoliberalism is what capitalism *is* today – there is no other kind
– what can be done to lay the basis for ending capitalism? This is not just
a question for Greeks, though crucial aspects of this dilemma are of course
specific to Greece, but for how the left everywhere thinks about and
responds to the challenges of coming to power in a hostile environment to
try to protect people from the worst depredations of neoliberalism, and
tries to embark on ‘really-existing transitions’ to a more egalitarian,
solidaristic, substantively more democratic world.

Sections of the Greek left and a good part of the international left have
argued that the deal should have been rejected, and Grexit embraced
instead. This opens up a number of scenarios but the most likely would be
the government resigning, calling new elections, and Syriza running on a
program that reversed its former support for staying in the eurozone.
Whether or not the party would win its credibility would, according to this
argument, be maintained and it would at least live to fight another day.
Exiting the Euro, Leaving the State

We would not dismiss the above argument out of hand. It reflects legitimate
emotional sentiments and strategic orientations. Until recently, however,
three of four Greeks opposed Grexit, and even if this has shifted
dramatically with the referendum and its aftermath, there is no clear and
deep consensus on leaving. Tsipras and a good part of the leadership is, in
this regard, not simply ‘tailing’ the public but deeply committed to Europe
on both economic and cultural grounds. For those of us who have long argued
that eventual exit is essential, especially from a socialist perspective,
the challenge is not so much to condemn this but to ask: When is the right
moment to take this on? What practical steps, ideological and in terms of
state capacities, might be argued for now to move the party and its base
toward a consensus?

As for counselling Syriza to risk losing its governing status, it needs to
be noted that Syriza already faced this question in the run up to the 2012
elections, and concluded that the responsible decision was to enter the
state and do everything it could to restrain the neoliberal assault from
*within* the state. Its electoral breakthrough that year was based on
Tsipras's declaration that Syriza was not just campaigning to register a
higher percentage of the vote but determined to form a government with any
others who would join with it in stopping the economic torture while
remaining within Europe. It was only when it came close to winning on this
basis, that Syriza vaunted to the forefront of the international left's
attention, and by the following summer, Tsipras was chosen by the European
Left Parties to lead their campaign in the 2014 European Parliament
elections. Syriza's subsequent clear victory in Greece in this election
foretold its victory in the Greek national election of January 2015, when
it became the first and only one of all the European left parties to
challenge neoliberalism and win national office.

Even apart from the humanitarian measures it immediately introduced without
allowing the Troika's representatives to vet the legislation, the very
attempt by the new government to challenge the Troika has helped expose the
neoliberal essence of the EU and to generate discussions on what
alternatives, however difficult to imagine, might be. It strikes us as
premature to conclude from the denouement to this five month challenge that
was finally reached this week, however sobering it has been, that it is
better for Syriza to leave the state to its bourgeois opponents. It seems
better to move beyond outrage and protest, let alone resignation, and
instead struggle with what kinds of changes remain possible in the state to
support the needs of the majority of Greek people who voted OXI in the
referendum and to contribute to the much-needed further development of
their already powerfully demonstrated capacities for solidarity and
innovation. Without this a productive path out of the eurozone, and perhaps
even the EU, to escape neoliberalism would be inconceivable. It is this,
not just surreptitiously making plans for a new currency, that properly
preparing for Grexit would really need to be about.

Those advocating an exit from the euro acknowledge that there will be
costs. Yet they also tend to understate, sometimes rather glibly, the chaos
this would entail especially for a state steeped in two centuries of
clientalist practices. Along with this comes an exaggeration of what
exiting the euro would, in itself, achieve. The economics of a new devalued
currency are sure to lead to high inflation and further dramatic reductions
in living standards, nor can it of itself produce new competitive
industries. Where the depth of the crisis is as severe as it is in Greece
and partly rooted in the very restructuring of its economy that came with
its deeper integration into Europe, changes in the currency are unlikely to
restore old industries or develop new ones. It is worth remembering how
many states with their own currencies are unable to withstand the ravages
of neoliberalism.

That the options open to the Syriza government are even more limited by the
way the new memorandum is structured to cruelly discipline Greece's
integration into neoliberal Europe is obvious enough. It should also be
increasingly obvious to those in the party whose commitment to the EU was
foundational that staying in the eurozone is inconsistent with restraining
neoliberalism's negative impact on most Greeks. It is much to be hoped that
Syriza, and the European Left Parties in general, will abandon the notion
that an even more centralized transnational European state would be more
progressive. But it does not follow from any of this that it would be
correct for Syriza to lead a Grexit right now, without a much deeper
preparation for dealing with the consequences.

What about resigning from office to free itself from administering the
memorandum? It would be highly irresponsible, having entered the state in
the first place promising to try to at least ameliorate the effects of
neoliberalism in Greece, to step down now after what has been imposed on
the Syriza government for its anti-neoliberal orientation and its
democratic temerity in calling the referendum. This only deepens its
responsibility to do all it still can to restrain the impact of
neoliberalism. To do otherwise would be to acquiesce in the goal of those
who tried to use the negotiations as a way to bring this government down.
Toward a Real Plan B

The point we are getting at is that framing the issue in terms of an
exhausted Plan A (negotiating with Europe) and a rejection of the euro
(Plan B) is too limited a way to frame the dilemmas confronting Syriza.
What the deeper preparation for leaving the eurozone and possibly also the
EU, actually entails is *to build on the solidarity networks that have
developed in society to cope with the crisis as the basis for starting to
transform social relations within Greece*. That is the real plan B, the
terrain on which both Syriza and the social movements might re-invigorate
now. What, more concretely, might this mean?

The recent years of struggle have developed the famous grassroots
solidarity movement that began – as all organizing must – by addressing the
needs of people. Out of this grew the some 400 solidarity groups
<http://www.solidarity4all.gr/> all across Greece addressing basic
community needs through self-organized democratically run collectives which
provide support for people's health, food, housing and other needs. Syriza
members were among those deeply involved in establishing and maintaining
the solidarity networks and its MPs elected in 2012 contributed 20 per cent
of their salaries to them. But since the Syriza government was elected this
year it has done very little to change and use the state so as to sustain
and broaden this remarkable movement.

Two leaders of the ‘Solidarity for All’ assembly of these groups told us
how frustrated they were that they could not even get from the Ministry of
Agriculture the information they need on the locations of specific crops so
they might approach a broader range of farmers and develop more direct
links between them and people in need. Only 12 people in total are employed
in working for Solidarity for All – their numbers should be multiplied with
the state's help. The military trucks sitting idle between demonstrations
could be used to facilitate the distribution of food through the solidarity
networks as a way of offsetting some of the cuts to the poorest pensioners,
and of compensating for the increased VAT on food imposed by the latest
memorandum. Various state departments could be engaged in identifying idle
land – of which there is plenty in the countryside and in light of the
crisis also in urban areas – which could be be given over to community
co-ops to create work in growing food, and coordinating this across

The Ministry of Education should be actively engaged in promoting the use
of schools as community hubs that provide spaces for the social movements
organizing around food and health services, and also to provide technical
education appropriate to this. We talked with many students who were
clearly enthusiastic about working in the community but were also quick to
admit that while they were adept at competing in student union elections
and good at distributing pamphlets and organizing demonstrations, their
skills for longer-term community organizing were very limited. The Ministry
of Education could help overcome this by setting up special programs to
prepare students to spend periods of time in communities, contributing to
adult education and working on community projects.

Similarly, the privatizations forced on the Greek state should be
accompanied by requirements that the new owners make a compensating
commitment to establish industrial parks where new jobs might be created.
Privatized firms might be required to source inputs inside Greece, while
the state's own purchases of furniture, materials and supplies (including
for schools and hospitals) might be sourced from new production units set
up his way. With so many structures standing idle and under-used (like the
Olympic sports facilities), all manners of co-ops and small businesses
should be supported in setting up operations in them, aided by groups of
young architects and engineers recruited to reconfigure these spaces. The
U.S. New Deal Work Projects Administration
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration> could serve
as an example not only in this respect, but especially in respect to the
broad range of artistic, theatrical and cultural activities in which so
many unemployed young people are already engaged.

We do not want to overstate this. These experiments would not themselves be
'solutions’. And they would no doubt lead to objections that they negate
the intent of the new memorandum's structural adjustment demands. But seen
strategically, they invite a constructive approach to linking the state to
communities in new ways that would offset the black and grey markets which
might otherwise overwhelm an economy that moved out of the eurozone. And it
helps lay the foundation for a new stage in addressing the domestic
barriers imposed by the inequalities of wealth and private property, and
concretizes the need for investment planning and public ownership so as
circulate society's social surplus to local, regional and sectoral
Conclusion: Leadership of a New Kind

The Syriza government currently retains a store of good will, even if this
has been damaged by the memorandum. To prevent the further erosion of that
popular support it will need to concretely counter the Troika-imposed
legislation. For every negative bill it puts forth it should creatively put
forth a positive bill that confirms its continuing commitment to the fight
against neoliberalism. Syriza's ministers must never depart from treating
the negative impositions as something positive, and indeed be expected to
act as socialist educators, helping people grasp the barriers to improving
their lives and raising rather than lowering long term expectations by
continuing to attack neoliberalism and speak to a socialist vision of
solidarity and democracy. And it is this that should inspire and guide the
transformation of state structures away from the old clientalism.

None of this can happen unless Syriza as a party develops the orientation
and capacities to lead the Greek state and society in this direction. We
have met with people in the party and social movements, as well as the
state, who are concerned that Syriza falls well short in this respect.
Among the various reasons for being critical of Syriza, this is the most
significant. •

Sam Gindin is adjunct professor and Leo Panitch is distinguished research
professor at York University, Canada. They co-authored The Making of Global
Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire
(Verso). Both are currently in Athens, Greece.
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