Monday, March 30, 2015

Plan C: The socialist alternative for Greece

By Alex Steiner

A fascinating interview with the newly elected member of the Greek Parliament, Costas Lapavitsas, recently appeared in the periodical Jacobin. [1]

Costas Lapavitsas
Lapavitsas, who represents Syriza in Parliament, is a well-known left wing economist and a self-described Marxist.  And unlike the Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis, Lapavitsas is no "erratic Marxist" but is very much at home in the language of orthodox Marxism.  He says that he is in favor of a socialist revolution and would like to see that come about in Greece and throughout  the world. He even invokes the Bolsheviks, favorably mentioning Lenin and Bukharin. 

However when we take a closer look at his statements, it becomes plain that his form of Marxism is much closer to the Menshevik variety than to Bolshevism.  He says,

“You don’t need a socialist revolution, and you don’t need to overthrow capitalism at every minute of the day to do small things. Of course, we aim for the overthrow of capitalism, and of course ultimately we would like to see the socialist revolution. But that’s not in the cards at the moment.”

Setting aside the straw man of those calling for the “overthrow of capitalism at every minute of the day”,  Lapavitsas clearly expresses the notion that while he thinks socialism is a good idea in some vague and distant future, it is not a realistic possibility in the immediate future or even in what he calls the “mid term”.  Instead,  he thinks that in the near and mid term the best that we can hope for is a more benevolent form of capitalism.  And he thinks this completely achievable,

“You don’t need socialist revolution in Greece, and you don’t need to overthrow capitalism in Greece to get rid of austerity. You don’t.”

This in itself is hardly an unusual position within Syriza.  After all, Syriza’s election manifesto promised to put an end to austerity without in any way challenging capitalism.  But what puts Lapavitsas in conflict with the majority of his colleagues in Syriza is his thesis that Syriza must abandon its commitment to remain within the EU and make plans to break from the Euro.   He thinks that policy of remaining within the EU that has been carried out by all the previous governments, whether they were Pasok or New Democracy, and now Syriza, has been a disaster. He emphasizes this point several times in the course of the interview,

“…you certainly need to get rid of the institutional framework of the euro. That simple position is not understood — or is not widely appreciated — within Syriza and not within the European left, and that has been a tragedy for years.”

What I found interesting in reading the interview with Lapavitsas was not his politics,  which is that of a garden variety reformist social-democrat of the old type – in contrast to the new type of social democats whom you can find in the German Social Democratic Party or in New Labour in the UK, who have adopted  neo-liberal economic policies.  Nor are his differences about the Euro with the majority of Syriza that interesting.  Indeed the  likelihood is that exiting from the Euro will become the prevailing view within Syriza in the next few months as the impossibility of remaining in the EU becomes more and more apparent.

But by far what is most interesting in this interview was Lapavitsas’ discussion of what concrete policies need to be implemented to bring about a Grexit.  He calls this ‘Plan B’.   He summarizes some of the measures required for the implementation of Plan B as follows:

“So the government would have to impose capital controls immediately, and it would have to impose bank controls immediately. It goes without saying. It would have to do what the EU did in the Cyprus case. Now, how long these controls will last and what form they will take will be a matter of how the situation unfolds. They will certainly last for a significant length of time. And some form of capital controls will of course remain, as they ought to…

Then the state will have to intervene once it has nationalized the banks and re-denominated their balance sheets, to restructure the banks. The banks need reorganization to see which banks will remain and on what terms. That’s a process that will take some time, and it will not be easy.”

Capital controls and nationalization of the banks are quite radical policies. Lapavitsas later even admits that the economic policies he is proposing will necessarily lead to some form of rationing.  The radicalism of these policies must be understood however within the broader context of radicalism to what end? For Lapavitsas the end is clearly to save capitalism, if not exactly the kind of capitalism of the Eurozone. He frankly acknowledges the pedigree of his proposals in the theories of John Maynard Keynes,

“Keynes and Keynesianism, unfortunately, remain the most powerful tools we’ve got, even as Marxists, for dealing with issues of policy in the here and now…

Marxism is about overturning capitalism and heading towards socialism. It has always been about that, and it will remain about that. Keynesianism is not about that. It’s about improving capitalism and even rescuing it from itself. That’s exactly right.”

One could hardly ask for a clearer statement of the direction of the official Left wing of Syriza.  And Lapavitsas admits that his brand of “orthodox” Marxism pretty much amounts to the same thing as the “erratic Marxism” of Yanis Varoufakis.


But whatever one thinks of the policies themselves one has to acknowledge that Lapavitsas criticism of much of the Left, that they have never thought through any concrete policies, is on the mark.  He says,

“There’s a traditional saying in Greek that a man who doesn’t want to get married keeps getting engaged. Well that’s what the Communists have been doing, unfortunately. Because they don’t want to tackle the question of dealing with the situation in the here and now, they talk about revolution.
So, if you do that, you don’t have to confront the question of the euro. You pretend the question of the euro is somehow either a minor question or a side question or whatever. Or you elevate things beyond: what you need is to get out of the European Union, to get out of NATO, to get out of this, that, and the other thing. In other words, you’re not offering any specific answers, because you’re answering everything.”

And while Lapavitsas remarks here are directed specifically against the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE),  they could just as easily apply to much of the Left. The KKE has a history of combining the worst sort of opportunism with a dogmatic sectarianism. So while they have had no problem in the past in participating in coalition governments with the bourgeoisie, they have steadfastly refused all demands for joint action in any of the demonstrations or general strikes against the previous Pasok and New Democracy governments.  And the KKE, like most sectarian outfits, steadfastly avoids putting forward any concrete policy proposals in its platforms but instead rely on abstract slogans.  Lapavitsas criticisms are certainly justified when it comes to these sectarian outfits (which Lapavitsas tries to identify with the entire Left.)

On the other hand, the opportunist ANTARSYA coalition ran in the last elections on a platform that has been correctly characterized as one of “left nationalism”.  It made an alliance with the MARS group which has been advocating a return to the drachma.  Unlike the sectarians ANTARSYA did have lots of “concrete proposals.”  In fact they advocated policies not so different than those proposed by Lapavitsas.  As one observer noted, for ANTARSYA,

“…the best alternative to a program of reform is to offer a rival program of greater reforms. In this revolutionaries are different from reformists principally in that they ask for more.” [2]

The author of those remarks also notes that ANTARSYA saw its role as that of playing a game of one-upmanship against Syriza,

“So Syriza offered Greek nationality to the children of all migrants; and, like a poker player, Antarsya “raised” them by offering to legalize all immigrants in Greece.”

But this raises an important question.  What would a revolutionary alternative to Syriza look like?  It would certainly not be the vacuous slogans offered by sectarians. Lapavitsas makes a valid point in that regard. But neither would it be Lapavitsas “Plan B” or the  more radical version of “Plan B” offered by groups like ANTARSYA.

Let’s call the alternative Plan C, the socialist alternative.  And unlike Lapavitsas,  for us socialism is  not a dim goal in a far removed future,  but an objective we can begin to move towards immediately and realize well within the span of one generation. The socialist alternative implies the reorganization of society on the basis of production for need instead of production for profit. It does mean that Greece’s future lies not with the EU or with a return to the drachma based on some kind of revival of Greek capitalism, but on the establishment of the Socialist United States of Europe.  But how does this come about?  Contrary to the sectarian ultra left groups, fighting for the socialist revolution internationally  does not mean we are absolved from developing concrete policy proposals for the  here and now.  In that respect Lapavitsas has a valid point.  What then would the concrete proposals needed to fill out Plan C look like?

To elaborate such policies involves some degree of speculation,  and by that I don’t mean elaborating a purely imaginary plan but something more like a thought experiment based on historical precedents whose applicability is very tentative and projections based on a course of events that cannot be predicted with any degree of precision.  Given that caveat, the exercise may nevertheless prove useful to those seriously working toward a socialist alternative for Greece. I will outline what I think are some of the key economic issues that need to be addressed.  There are clearly other issues relating to foreign policy, political organization, science and culture, etc that also need to be addressed in a serious program dealing with the transition to socialism. These could perhaps be the topic of a separate essay.

First of all one has to acknowledge that any such program cannot under any circumstances be implemented by Syriza, not only because Syriza is wedded to a program of reforms within capitalism despite its rhetoric, but also because by its nature the transition to socialism cannot be entrusted solely to the vehicle of parliamentary politics.  It will require action from the ground up, by the masses taking their destiny into their own hands and creating their own forms of organization.   It is also inconceivable that such actions can succeed without a trained revolutionary leadership. Nevertheless, in keeping with our thought experiment, let us imagine that Syriza was a genuine revolutionary organization. In that case it could do plenty, even within the framework of parliamentary politics, to encourage  a powerful movement by the masses. 

So  in this thought experiment we would be imagining what policies would be advocated by a parliamentary party, which unlike  the real Syriza,  saw the alternative to austerity as the inauguration of socialism. 

And the first thing we can say is that many of the policy proposals suggested by Lapavitsas would indeed be instituted immediately by a socialist government. An exit from the Euro would certainly be one of the first measures that would need to be implemented. Capital controls to prevent the flight of capital out of the country and the nationalization of the banks would also follow.  Even a form of rationing would undoubtedly be necessary in order to deal with the inevitable shock of a sudden transition to a different economic system.  One can say that these are “Keynesian” policies, although their purpose would be very different than that envisioned by Lapavitsas.  They would be measures on the road to socialism instead of measures meant to “save capitalism from itself”. The context of such measures makes all the difference. Such measures by themselves are certainly not “socialist”. They are clearly undertaken within the framework of a market economy.  But such measures will be necessary for a period of time as the economy is in transition to socialism.  To imagine that no period of transition is required to go from the rule of the law of value to the society of associated producers is sheer fantasy, especially for a small country like Greece that at least for a period, can be expected to be relatively isolated.   Clearly replacing the mechanism of the market that governs the production, distribution and consumption of an entire nation with another, completely new mechanism, is not a trivial task and if not thought through on the basis of the best available expert knowledge could have catastrophic consequences.  In all likelihood, even under the best of circumstances,  the transition will be accompanied by a period of perhaps severe privations, even worse than those suffered by the austerity measures imposed by the EU.  A revolutionary government would honestly explain that to its supporters.  If the masses believe in the prospect of socialism and are involved at every level of democratic decision making they will agree to the sacrifices required.  Most left wing groups who have not thought deeply about the implications of the  transition to socialism, seem to have forgotten this.  This was a point once made by George Orwell, though writing in a very different context, on the victory of the Labour Party after World War II and the repudiation of Churchill’s leadership.

“The weakness of all left-wing parties is their inability to tell the truth about the immediate future. When you are in opposition, and are trying to win support for a new economic and political programme it is your job to make people discontented, and you will inevitably do it by telling them that they will be better off in a material sense when the new programme is introduced. You probably don’t tell them, what may very well be true, that they won't experience these benefit immediately, but only after, say, twenty years. The British people have never been warned, i.e. by the Left, that the introduction of Socialism may mean a serious drop in the standard of living.” [3]

Orwell’s estimate of 20 years is needlessly pessimistic, but he is undoubtedly correct in his main point, that a transition to socialism will entail a period of deprivation and that a party that advocates this course needs to be honest about it.  Lapavitsas also, speaking as a professional economist, recognizes that a transition period will entail a period of perhaps severe deprivation. He says that even a “controlled exit” from the Euro would lead to worsening of conditions for workers,

“...wages must rise, but even if they rise, you’re not going to go back to where you were. It’s just not feasible at the moment. We need a growth strategy for that.”

Given the reality of a period of deprivation, why then continue to advocate a strategy of “saving capitalism” when one can embrace a strategy of a transition to socialism. Why go through  all that pain for such a meagre “gain”?

In any case a revolutionary government, while recognizing the necessity of sacrifices, would adopt a goal of minimizing them as far as possible and speed the transition to socialism.  That will mean looking for assistance from the international working class and the establishment of socialist regimes in other countries. Were Greece to embark on the road to socialism it could in turn spark political movements in other countries.  But even so, assistance from abroad will not happen overnight and until that is forthcoming the new regime must work out a plan for survival in the face of the near certain cut off of credit and trade by the EU and North America.  An economic boycott will be a certainty once the government repudiates the debts. One can expect that trade relations with countries that may be sympathetic to the new government may ease the burden.  Russia, China,Venezuela could possibly fill in some of the gap caused by the end of trade with the EU. 

Many details would have to be worked out. A plan for regulating what for a time would be a “mixed” economy would have to be developed.  Some enterprises, especially smaller ones, should be allowed to and even encouraged to continue operations on a for profit basis, though now they would be managed by and run democratically by their workers.  A master plan for regulating the chain of supply and demand in each industry and in the different branches of agriculture and their place in the overall economy would have to be worked out.  Finally, an analysis of how each industry and the economy as a whole impacts the environment and the climate would have to be integrated into any economic plan.  This would clearly require the combined expertise of specialists in economics and the social sciences as well experts within each industry. It would be an opportunity to harness the enthusiasm of students and  professionals in these fields and bring them together with workers in the different industries all working together cooperatively to come up with a viable economic plan.

There are of course some historical precedents the new government could examine for assisting it in formulating its economic policies, especially the policies adopted by the Bolsheviks immediately after their seizure of power.  But these are likely to be of only limited value given the vastly different circumstances of Russia in 1917 and Greece in 2015.  Without discounting the rich history  of lessons to be absorbed from a close study of the policies of the Bolsheviks and other historical precedents, the new government would be largely on its own blazing new trails in the making of history. Which is not to deny that they will have a vastly changed potential for coordinating economic planning and democratic participation as a result of the communications revolution brought on through the Internet.

We can continue this thought experiment in more detail, but the basic outline is clear enough. A real alternative to austerity is neither the wishful thinking or sloganeering of sectarians or the kind of false pragmatism of Lapavitsas.  Rather it means thinking concretely and deeply about what policies are entailed for a genuinely practical transition to socialism.

There is one last point in Lapavitsas interview that is worth a comment.  At one point he takes to tasks those Leftists who think that politics determines everything.  He says,

“Geopolitics and domestic politics, the balance of political forces,  that’s what Marxism has been reduced to, unfortunately. And, when you do that, when you commence with the politics — the balance of forces domestically or internationally — it is easy to engage in flights of fancy. It is easy to begin to think that, in the end, everything is politics, and therefore you can change the balance of political forces, and anything is achievable.
Well, I’m sorry, that’s not the case. And that’s not Marxism. As Marxists, we believe that politics, in the end is derivative of the material reality of economic and class relations. That’s a very, very profound statement by Karl Marx, so long as it is understood properly, so long as it’s not mechanical. The bottom line is this statement means that not everything is possible through politics.”

Here I would have to say that Lapavitsas is at once correct and incorrect.  It is true that many so-called Marxists engage in “flights of fancy”,  that is to say they view the possibilities for action simply  within the framework of political action without paying any attention to the constraints imposed by the economy.  But while Lapavitsas is correct in pointing out that for Marxists, “politics, in the end is derivative of the material reality of economic and class relations”,  he forgets that there is a dialectical relationship between economics and politics and that is also a truism for Marxists.  Although economics is certainly the final determinant in shaping the configuration of a society the political struggle can be the decisive factor in either opening or closing off an avenue of economic development at a critical moment.  Lapavitsas would have done well to recall an observation of Trotsky’s, who in writing on the impact of the Stalinist bureaucracy on the Soviet economy, noted the critical role of political forces,

“The processes of economic construction are not yet taking place within a classless society. The questions relating to the allotment of the national income compose the central focus of the plan… All these questions by their very nature do not allow for a priori decisions by the bureaucracy, which has fenced itself off from intervention by concerned millions.

The struggle between living interests, as the fundamental factor of planning, leads us into the domain of politics, which is concentrated economics.” [4]

Lapavitsas “forgets” this part of the dialectical relationship between politics and economics because he has decided to limit his choices to that between continuing the Euro and more austerity or Plan B, a transition to the drachma and a hopeless form of Greek capitalism.  He removes from the table any consideration of the real alternative to the Euro, Plan C, the transition to socialism.




Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Defend the VIOME workers


The workers of the VIOME factory in Thessaloniki, Greece, which was bankrupt and abandoned by its owner, have occupied  their workplace and have managed it themselves since February of 2013. Their struggle is well known and  widely supported  both  in Greece and internationally.

But suddenly, the  lawyers of the former capitalist owner have  re-appeared and filed a law suit against the workers in an attempt  to take back  the factory and the land surrounding it so that it can be sold. The trial will take place on March 23.
In the following week the VIOME workers, supported by  the workers of the public Radio-TV station ERT3 of Thessaloniki, who have also occupied and managed their workplace since June 2013, will initiate a powerful action on behalf of all workers in Greece. (See our previous article on the ERT workers, http://forum.permanent-revolution.org/2015/03/workers-self-management-at-occupied.html ) They will lead a caravan, marching throughout Greece to publicize their cause and demand that the new government  implement  Syriza’s pre-election  promises to secure their  just social rights. 
The Solidarity Committee of the VIOME workers is asking that statements of solidarity be widely publicized internationally and forwarded to the following address:
You may also send copies of any solidarity statements to the permanent-revolution web site at:
A press conference detailing the upcoming trial and the Caravan will be held on behalf of the VIOME workers on March 18.  Statements of support that can be presented to the press and the court would be welcome.
For more information go to the website of the VIOME workers: http://www.viome.org/




Sunday, March 8, 2015

Letter from Greece

Introduction   

VIOME occupied factory in Thessaloniki
We just received a letter from Savas Michael-Matsas, Secretary of the Workers Revolutionary Party (EEK) of Greece.  The letter summarizes the zig zags of Syriza's leadership since winning the election on Jan 25 till their capitulation to the Eurogroup on Feb 20.  But in sharp contrast to the pseudo-Marxists of the WSWS and other Internet sectarians, Michael-Matsas draws a cogent conclusion from this analysis:

Revolutionaries should not be rejoicing for  all this saying to the pauperized  people who invested their hopes in Syriza, "you are idiots for supporting Syriza,  we told you so!". 

It does not take the accumulated wisdom of Marxism to have predicted that Syriza, given its adherence to the program of - in the words of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis - “Saving capitalism from itself”, would not be able to carry out its election promises.   Indeed we made that very point on Jan 25 when we reprinted the election statement of the EEK. We wrote then,

As the EEK statement points out, SYRIZA will not be able to meet the expectations of those who will be voting for it. [1]

But this is not the end of revolutionary politics.  Indeed it is only a bare beginning. For the sectarian denunciators the capitulation of Syriza’s leadership to the blackmail tactics of the Eurogroup is nothing more than an “I told you so” moment.  They are completely clueless about the next step.  All they can do is pat themselves on the back for having their perspective “confirmed”.  If you ask them what initiative they propose to make a dent in the consciousness of the working class and win them to revolutionary socialist policies as the only alternative to austerity, they simply roll their eyes in disbelief. “The masses MUST read our web site then join our movement because we correctly predicted the betrayal of Syriza.”  This is not revolutionary politics but a rather sad parody of it.

We are printing excerpts from Michael-Matsas letter because in contrast to the lifeless approach of the Internet sectarians, he is proposing a set of bold initiatives that could potentially transform the political situation in Greece.  It is of course by no means guaranteed that the EEK will succeed in this endeavor.  But an important element of revolutionary politics is the art of testing the temper of the masses.  The proposed march of workers from Thessaloniki to Athens strikes us as exactly the right approach for a small revolutionary movement to take in this situation. 

Writing in 1931 Leon Trotsky gave some advice to the Communist Party of Spain that has some bearing on the political dynamics in Greece today. He pointed to the need for bold initiatives in  a situation in which reformist groups, much like Syriza today, held the allegiance of the great majority of the masses.  He sharply criticized the policies of the Communist Party, which was then going through a sectarian phase, for their lack of initiatives and their refusal to join in common struggle with the masses who were under the sway of the reformists:

In Spain, where in the near future the slogan of Soviets could already be put practically on the order of the day, the very creation of Soviets (juntas), provided there is an energetic and bold initiative of the Communists, is not to be conceived of otherwise than by way of a technical organizational agreement with the trade unions and the socialists on the method and the intervals of the election of workers’ deputies. To advance, under these conditions, the idea of the inadmissibility of work with the reformists in the mass organizations would be one of the most disastrous forms of sectarianism.
Elsewhere in the same document he writes on the subject of Reformism and the Working Class,

How then is such an attitude on our part towards the proletarian organizations led by the reformists to be reconciled with our evaluation of reformism as the Left wing of the imperialist bourgeoisie. This contradiction is not a formal but a dialectical one, that is to say. one that flows from the very course of the class struggle. A considerable part of the working class (its majority in a number of countries) rejects our evaluation of reformism; in other countries, it has not as yet even approached this question. The whole problem consists precisely of leading these masses to revolutionary conclusions on the basis of our common experiences with them. We say to the non-Communist and to the anti-Communist workers: “Today you still believe in the reformists leaders whom we consider to be traitors. We cannot and we do not wish to impose our point of view upon you by force. We want to convince you. Let us then endeavor to fight together and to examine the methods and the results of these fights.” This means: full freedom of groupings within the united trade unions where trade union discipline exists for all.
No other principled position can be proposed.[2]
 It is well to remember Trotsky’s words today.

Letter from Greece


Allow me, first,  to  remind  you what happened before the  agreement with the Eurogroup. We have to keep in mind  that the elections of January 25, 2015 in Greece was not just a banal  parliamentary contest but a dramatic  turn in the class struggle in Greece and in Europe: after  five years of a depression deeper than  that of the Great Depression in the US in the 1930s, after an unprecedented  social catastrophe  exacerbated by the  measures of social cannibalism imposed  by the troika of the EU, the ECB , the IMF, and their  servants in the successive  Greek governments, finally  the  struggles  of a people reduced into a  nation of  the destitute   led to a  huge tide of anger of the masses raising to power a left party, for the first time  in the history  of a country marked by the  civil war of the 1940s and  non-stop anti-communist witch hunts.

The tide continues to grow, full of hope, despite  the confusion and doubts spread  above all by the zigzags of the leadership of Syriza. 



First zigzag: after its victory, Syriza formed a coalition  government with a far right, xenophobic, anti-Semite  nationalist party, the Independent  Greeks, linked with the shipowners and the Church, although it could  form a real government of the Left, which, even with only 149 seats among the 300 seats in Parliament, it could be  much stronger politically  winning a much broader  political base in society itself.  (See my previous essay,  The Greek people have shaken the world.) The initial announcements by  Tsipras, Varoufakis and other Syriza  ministers defying  the EU, the troika, Schauble, Merkel  and the Memorandum, had produced   enthusiasm  among the devastated people.


Then, Syriza  once again disappointed its supporters and the people by another right wing step: its leadership, without even consulting the Party elected bodies, proposed  in parliament as a candidate for the position of the new President of the Republic, a notorious  right winger who supported and voted for all the austerity measures,  an ex- minister in previous New Democracy  governments, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.  Within the party there was  anger and criticism.  This was evident when the pro-Syriza main evening newspaper  Efimerida ton Syntakton published our Call “to stay  faithful to the popular mandate and vote down the right wing candidate” ( Only one abstention was   recorded) As many Syriza members protested to the Party, the  following statement was made in Syriza' s  Radio Station Kokkino,

"Unfortunately, we have only 149 deputies; if we had 180 we could propose ....Savas Michael-Matsas as a candidate!!!" 
A rather rude joke but it shows  that the alternative to an alliance with the Right should be an alliance - to be avoided -  with forces in the revolutionary Left.

These right wing openings to hostile bourgeois forces for class collaboration were done with the excuse that "a broad national patriotic, anti- Memorandum  front" was necessary to face the  enormous  pressures  by the "ordoliberal"  Germany, the EU, the ECB, and the IMF.  Syriza was  in any case vulnerable to these pressures  as it always stressed  that it will avoid any break from the EU and the Eurozone, and it considered  Grexit a calamity.

John Milios et al. (Greek left  economists  and cadres of Syriza) were correct,  in their criticisms later against the agreement with the Eurogroup, pointing out that  by making common cause with Greek bourgeois interests, Syriza became even more  vulnerable to the pressures and blackmail of a hostile  EU led by Schauble's Germany.

The  strategy of Syriza in these "negotiations" was self-defeating. Never was it prepared  for a break and the EU knew this very well. Furthermore, the Syriza leadership never fully understood, or used, the crisis of Germany itself, which while it is facing the crisis in the Eurozone leading to an anti-austerity rebellion by Greece and the other over-indebted countries  of the European periphery, is also facing at the same time the Ukrainian crisis. It never played the "geo-political card",  threatening, for example, a veto of the EU sanctions against Russia or a withdrawal  from NATO. You have to keep in mind that Greece is  situated at the center of the triangle of wars  in Ukraine, Syria/Iraq, and Libya. 

On February 20, Varoufakis and  Tsipras  received an  open ultimatum, a cynical blackmail by the EU  Commission under orders from Schauble: either the Greeks sign immediately the Statement  already prepared or the last channel of financing of the  Greek banks by the ELA ( Emergency  Liquidity Assistance) of the ECB would be cut off, leaving Greece to face a run on the banks and a declaration of insolvency. 

We can never call the result of blackmail  by the gangsters of big capital "an honorable compromise". It is true that the Eurogroup  Statement signed by the Greek  side  is written  in terms of "a constructive  ambiguity" as  the EU and  Varoufakis had said. They have changed  semantics: the troika is now called "the institutions", the Memorandum is called "current arrangement", the dictatorial  control by the troika is called "review".

Nevertheless some points are crystal clear:


1. Syriza abandons its  pre-electoral pledge for a negotiated  cancellation of the biggest part of the Greek  debt.  The Statement clearly and unambiguously says: "The Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely".

2. Even if the so-called primary surplus of Greece (the surplus after payment for debt and interests)  could be  a topic of negotiation taking  notice of the current "conditions of the economy in 2015", nevertheless the acceptance of the policy for "primary surpluses" as it was imposed on Greece by the troika  in November 2012 is accepted by Syriza  i.e  the need to continue  austerity to get these " primary surpluses", larger or smaller. Paul Krugman is, in a sense, right when  he says in the NYT [3] that the Greeks accepted austerity to "avoid more austerity".  But the nightmare of austerity continues, anyway! 

The crux of the matter is that you cannot fight austerity without cancelling the debt and you cannot  fight against the crashing  burden of the debt without  rejecting austerity.

By  surrendering at this point  the rest follows: the privatizations already done are not touched and they will continue for example the privatization of the Pireus harbor; " labor flexibility" will continue in  the labor market etc. etc. Every step taken by the Greek government in favor of the people  can be considered a forbidden "unilateral measure" and  be punished  by pushing Greece into default. Anyway the agreement is very precarious , it did not resolved the crisis between Greece and the EU, and it is a factor for new explosions of crisis in the near future.

The problem is not only that the leadership  of Syriza retreated:  they declared the defeat - a victory, and, to add  insult to injury,  they compared their agreement with... the Brest -Litovsk agreement of the Bolsheviks with Germany!!!

Of course, neither  Greek workers or the destitute are idiots nor the Syriza members themselves. Already there is an  internal  crisis in Syriza  and it  is growing.

Revolutionaries should not be rejoicing for all this saying to the pauperized  people who invested their hopes in Syriza "you are idiots for supporting Syriza, we told you so" like the Stalinist KKE and many sects  do now. From our side, we  are in a continuous  dialogue with these people, patiently explaining  what happens, and what are the  disastrous  results of  the policies of class collaboration with the EU, the IMF and the Greek bourgeoisie. We are advancing  transitional demands   for the cancellation of the debt, nationalization of the banks and for an emergency program to put an end  to austerity, hunger, unemployment, the humanitarian disaster;  furthermore to build  solidarity and  coordination with the  workers, and social movements in Europe on an internationalist basis and perspective, against the EU, for a socialist unification from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

To give you a more concrete idea, here are two of our current practical  projects  together with the self managed VIOME factory workers [4] we are preparing a national March from Thessalonika to Athens, in a month, mobilizing the people all over the country against unemployment and privatizations, and concluding in Athens demanding, among others,  a special law to guaranty the rights of the workers of VIOME. 
  
A second project is the preparation of our 3rd European Conference  early June to bring together  fighters and movements  coming from different radical traditions and struggles to debate and elaborate  a program for a  socialist way out from  the crisis and a plan for action all over Europe.

[3] Link to Paul Krugman's article in the New York Times, What the Greeks won
[4] The VIOME factory in Thessaloniki has been occupied and managed by its workers for the past two years. See their web site,  http://www.viome.org/.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Workers self management at occupied Greek Radio-Television (ERT)

Note: The following is the platform of the workers engaged in the occupation of the ERT television and radio studios in Thessaloniki, Greece.  The workers of this public broadcasting institution occupied the facility in June 2013 after the previous government shut down all of the public radio and television facilities in Greece. They have maintained the occupation ever since and have continued broadcasting 24 hours a day in defiance of the government. The new Syriza government, in one of their first official acts, reopened ERT.  The workers, however, do not want to return to the old system of bosses appointed by politicians telling them what to do. They are pressing  to run the broadcast facility as  a worker managed cooperative.  The statement from the ERT workers is published below. 

Workers self management at occupied Greek Radio-Television (ERT)


The capitalist crisis saw the closure of Greek Radio-Television (ERT) but workers not only resisted they took ERT into collective self management and continued broadcasting. 21 months after its closure the striking workers still ran 17 radio stations (15 regional, two national) and a single TV channel (ET3).
The translation of the texts below has been sent to us by Thanasis, a worker at the ERT and outline how the workers restructured ERT and what they want Syriza to respect if funding is returned.
Thanasis writes " Actually, and in simple words, they fired us but we never left the building and of course we never took an  advance to earn money (publicity etc) respecting the fact that all these buldings and technical stuff belong to the Greek people.  The new government after having recognized our struggle decided to re-open the Public Radio-television. Lets hope they will also incorporate our ideas, those we fought for over the last 2 years. What you will read is not a dream. Is what we already do everyday and we simply propose it for the future. "
«THE ERT WE WANT»
TEXT–PROPOSAL issued by the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the WORKERS of FREE SELF-MANAGED ERT3

On the occasion of the first anniversary since the government shut down the country’s public broadcaster Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) in a coup-like move on the night of June 11, 2013, we the workers of the Self-managed ERT3 who have persevered with our independent struggle to keep ERT3 open for over a year now in order to serve the people by providing regular and independent programming, we the workers who are convinced of our rights and the oncoming vindication, are preparing for the “day after” and are hereby presenting our text/proposal for “The ERT We Want”.
The following text has emanated through direct-democracy procedures, namely through the numerous general assemblies organized by the struggling workers of ERT3 in Thessaloniki. Written word by word by a nine-member working group which was voluntarily selected through our assembly, the proposal was returned to the general assembly for approval before it took its final form.
The proposed text outlines the key principles and aims, the means of financing, the sector of labor relations, the public’s participation and the model of «administration» during ERT’s new period of operation.
It is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of people who stood by us in solidarity during all these troubled months, as well as to all the Greeks and other peoples who have been profoundly affected by the brutal pro-memorandum government policy of recent years. Yet, it is particularly dedicated to those who refuse to bow their head and choose to carry on with dignity and unceasing efforts until the final victory for freedom and real democracy, instead of yielding in the face of a black regime.
We the workers of Free Self-managed ERT3 are publicizing this document today, calling on all of our struggling colleagues throughout the country, on our brothers and sisters in Athens, in other large cities and in the proud regional stations to embrace our effort so that we may all together press ahead with dignity.
We call upon the general public to support the Public Broadcaster we dream of; this dream is society’s offspring, society gave birth to this dream.
We the workers of Free Self-managed ERT3 declare: VICTORY IS NEAR, NOT BECAUSE VICTORY AWAITS US, BUT BECAUSE WE ARE MOVING TOWARDS VICTORY.

«THE ERT WE WANT»
KEY PRINCIPLES AND AIMS
Independent information and quality-driven cultural/entertainment programming provided by a truly PUBLIC and DEMOCRATIC broadcasting organization constitutes a public good, not a commodity. Freedom of press, uncensored journalistic work, absence of “orders” from superiors, cultural creativity and promotion and the unimpeded conduct of investigative journalism for the good of the general public, especially for the weaker social groups and movements, all constitute a uniform and non-negotiable right and obligation.

The voice of ERT must be transmitted everywhere in Greece and anywhere Greeks reside in the world. The state has a duty to provide the appropriate and necessary infrastructure to fulfill this purpose.
Respect for human rights, both individual and social, is to be enforced by all workers without exception, for the citizens of the country and the world. ERT’s role is partly educational; it is to provide quality cultural material, offer an outlet of expression for the isolated social groups, as well as care for the advancement of the creative imagination of the younger age groups by encouraging interactive skills and critical thinking. ERT ensures in practice the protection of human dignity, while it highlights, denounces and rejects all expressions of racism, bigotry, sexism, nationalism, state authoritarianism or any form of discrimination against individuals or groups targeted for their political / social / trade union action.
ERT serves society and its needs while it also serves as an embankment to the phenomena of "social automation-fragmentation-cannibalism", whenever the given political power attempt to cultivate these traits within the society based on the logic of "divide and rule". ERT checks the political power and does not identify with said power, as it is neither a government body nor an institution at the service of parties and individual or business
The ERT has been serving the community and its needs, while simultaneously an embankment to the phenomena of "social automation-hash-cannibalism", whenever the power of any attempts to cultivate the society based on the premise of "divide and rule". ERT controls the power and not the same as it is neither a government body and its mechanisms, or institution of parties and organized individual or business «circles».
The general assemblies of workers and the active working folk remain vigilant in observing these principles and aims at all stages of ERT’s operation, in order to prevent any attempts at interference, may that be via censorship or other, regardless of which institution this attempt may stem from. FUNDING The licensing fee is ERT’s main source of funding; it is not to be utilized for any purpose unrelated to the public broadcaster’s needs and does not constitute in any way a funding opportunity for the given government (i.e. transferring a portion of the licensing fee to state investments in photovoltaics).
The compensation rate is determined in accordance to income / social criteria. Those living below the poverty line are exempted from paying the licensing fee.
ERT operates under a special economic state, i.e. a public utility that cannot be transferred or sold to private entities. ERT ceases to be a corporation. ERT, as a public broadcaster that actively exercises its role in providing quality information, producing programs that serve as public goods and not commodities, will not become involved in the advertisement genre. The additional financial needs that will arise, may they be for larger-scale productions or for the broadcast of breaking news shall be covered by the state.
Excluded from the no-advertisement clause will be the ERT channel assigned to broadcast an event that is accompanied by sponsorships.

LABOR RELATIONS
All of ERT employees will be hired under an open-ended work agreement, with full-time and exclusive employment and insurance rights, without exception. There will be no differentiation between regular and temporary staff.

All (de)regulatory rules (articles and clauses on contracts or staff regulations) that perpetuate the status of short-term contracted employees and instead conceal fixed and permanent needs in the operation of ERT will become null and void. "Outsourced program collaborators”, "special advisers" and "Special Staff Positions" have no place in the new operation of ERT. There will be no employees transferred from subcontracting companies.
Members of staff with specialized subject work (cleaning crews, security, cameramen, etc.) constitute an integral part of ERT’s human resources and they are individuals hired specifically for the said task, holding the same rights as all other workers. Any significant new need that may arise to cover "gaps" in programming shall be met either through the existing specialized staff and, if this is not feasible, then it shall be covered by staff that will be hired at ERT with exactly the same employment terms that apply to the other workers.
The actual emergencies for external 'seasonal' collaborator or employees with reduced working hours will be reviewed as special cases by the instituted bodies of program production, which will undertake to submit detailed proposals to the body of the General Assembly, which will make the final decisions after assessing all the facts of each case separately.

PARTICIPATION OF SOCIETY
ERT, as a broadscaster with a truly public service character, is behooved to pay close attention to the voice of the very society it addresses. To fulfill this objective, ERT will provide the conditions that enable a participatory formation of the overall philosophy of the transmitted program.

In order to avoid overriding the will of the people and the arbitrary representation of social groups of "factors" and vested interests of the political, social, economic, self-governing powers, the citizens’ society shall have first say in the subsidiary influencing of the overall program philosophy, through its the solidarity structures, social movements, collectives, or individuals who are experiencing racism and repression, neighborhood committees, direct democracy grassroots initiatives and the assemblies of the unions representing the struggling sectors of Greek society. Representatives of these aforementioned living cells of society will undertake to convey the decisions of their general assemblies or the views that are shaped as a general sense of society and, in conjunction with the proposals that will be submitted to ERT (the program committees and ERT staff assemblies) by representatives of various scientific meetings / training / professional sectors, a largely unmediated hearing will have been achieved. This ensures ERT’s truly public nature, which is not merely addressing the public, but is mainly initiated by the people themselves.

ADMINISTRATION
Two of the main characteristics of the months-long struggle maintained by the workers ERT against the government-enforced "black screen", the self-management of the produced programming and the self-administration of the struggle, are incorporated as non-negotiable conquests in the new operation of ERT. The overall philosophy of "administration" is based on direct democratic procedures, the rotation of the various departments supervisors and their direct recall, where the main decision-making body, that is the general assembly of workers, so decides.

The classic notion of directorship or the position of department "supervisor" acquires characteristics that have to do with the ability to exercise a coordinating role in order to improve internal operations and achieve a better result in the transmitted program. The so-called 'managerial prerogative' is abolished and is replaced by the principle of respect among equals. The department coordinators (supervisors) shall be elected by the employees of the department. They are accountable, reviewed and may be recalled by the General Assembly of the workers. The same stands for the individual administrations.
Similarly, the general coordinator (the classic position of general manager) is excluded from the above outline. The election of the general coordinator is made by the general assembly of the employees of ERT. In all, the position of the general coordinator / manager does not hold the power and imposition of a blanket authoritarian management / operation of ERT, but, instead aims to coordinate the departments in order to achieve the best quality results for the benefit of society and the potential for enlargement of the rights and the defense of the gains of the people, including the right to free and independent information and quality entertainment.

ADMINISTRATIVE AUTONOMY
ERT, regardless where it broadcasts from, constitutes a unified, public broadcasting organization, while, concurrently, each and every channel, radio or digital media of ERT (among them ERT3) maintains its administrative autonomy. ERT has the necessary human resources and the appropriate broadcasting infrastructure in every county of Greece, in order to assure that any local or breaking news in the given regions is covered on the spot.

Solidarity, mutual understanding, respect for autonomy and coordination among the members of this public broadcaster constitute prerequisites not only for the implementation and consolidation of internal direct democracy procedures, but also for the prevention of a centrally-controlled administration. Nationwide meetings of coordinators and committees of all broadcasting units in the country will be held at regular intervals, conveying the decisions of the general meetings of workers and civil society in order to exchange views, to address weaknesses and to continuously improve the broadcast program.