The Greek Lesson

With the Syriza experience fresh in mind, Slovenia's left is drafting a plan for eurozone exit.

The year 2015 will be remembered as seminal in the history of European integration. The European Union revealed its true nature as a fortress of capital in which international solidarity and human lives are of no value.

The EU demonstrated that its institutions not only suffer a democratic deficit, but are antidemocratic to their core. The ideological narrative of the peaceful coexistence of the European nations, and the economic convergence fueled by the free market, was substituted by racist ideologies about lazy Greeks and other Southerners who parasitize on the labor of the more competitive and industrious Northerners.

Parallel to that, the terrorist attacks in Paris both in early and late 2015 sent Islamophobia and xenophobia surging, with hundreds of thousands of refugees entering from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and other countries that have withstood destruction for years, even decades, usually triggered or enabled by the West. The only party to benefit from the decision of the European countries and their common institutions against a humane and effective solution to the refugee crisis was the political far right that has already seized power in one third of Europe.

While the refugee crisis exposed the falsehood of the elevated talk about human rights and free flow of people, the Greek example demonstrated that the European integration process lacks any and all solidarity among the member states. The prohibition against pledging the national treasury bills in order to maintain liquidity issued by the European Central Bank to the Greek banks a mere week after the January elections was but the overture to the troika’s reckoning with the Tsipras government.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, freely admitted to the Financial Times that the EU fears “political contagion” much more than the financial consequences of the Greek crisis. In other words, the European political elites did everything in their power to prevent the Left from scoring election victories similar to that in Greece. It is time to shed the romanticist views of an illusory “united Europe” and recognize that it is all about a poorly concealed battle of capital against the working people.

The outcome of this battle is well-known even today. Following the July 2015 referendum in Greece where 61 percent of votes were cast against the continuation of the austerity measures, which have created a social and economic abyss of historic proportions, the Syriza government faced precisely the dilemma it wanted to avoid in the first place during their negotiations with the troika.

On the one hand, signing the third memorandum would mean betraying both the referendum’s “oxi” and Syriza’s own program. On the other hand, however, given the asphyxiation of banking liquidity that began in the week before the referendum, causing the shutdown of the banks and imposition of capital controls, Greece would have been forced into a chaotic exit from the eurozone and a hasty reintroduction of the drachma.

Given that Tsipras and his government were neither technically, financially, nor otherwise prepared for that, capitulation was the only remaining option. Syriza’s defeat was thus the result of not only giving in to a more powerful outside player, but also of a strategic blindness springing from a lack of internal democracy in the party, and the giving up on its own program.

In the IDS, we are convinced that the examples of Greece and the refugee crisis mandate a strategic reorientation of the European left. After 2015, even the most dedicated believers in the idea of the “united Europe” can hardly deny the fact that Europe as it currently exists is anything but a community of equal nations; rather, it is a structure upholding the class of politicians and capitalists whose interests have merged.

This class has, by virtue of European integration, created a common space within which they advance and spearhead its desired economic policies which would be difficult to execute within individual member states due to democratic limitations. Once we recognize European integration as the “committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” as Marx and Engels described the capitalist state in the Communist Manifesto, it becomes clear that the approach taken by the Tsipras government requires radical changing and upgrading if we wish to change the nature of these integrations.

The upgrading of the leftist, and by extension, the IDS strategy to renew European integration should be twofold. Firstly, any government led by a left party engaging in debates and negotiations with the EU institutions (Plan A) must not rely solely on the power of its arguments, but needs to fortify the latter with political power that alone can enforce them. An international challenge calls for an international force: a pan-European coalition of progressive organizations and collectives that will demand change on every societal level, not merely in meeting rooms and press conferences.

Secondly, such a government must not walk into the trap that was set for Syriza, but must be prepared for the second eventuality: the exit from the eurozone and the introduction of the national currency (Plan B). Its negotiation powers would increase and it would have a real alternative course of action should the negotiations with the EU institutions fail. It will also have established sincere international cooperation towards a European order that benefits working people.

Plan B would free the state of its economic cage, the eurozone, and restore its monetary sovereignty. However, the Greek lesson should be understood in its entirety. The confrontation with the EU institutions and the international financial markets, as well as their domestic cronies, would no doubt provoke dire retaliatory measures.

A government led by a left party would therefore need to back up the Plan B with a democratic legitimation of the highest order, by means of a public debate on its strategy before the elections and with a referendum. The working people would have to be given detailed and honest information about all aspects of Plan B, the possible social and economic price notwithstanding.

It is of utmost importance to persuade the people that exiting the eurozone means the beginning of a controlled, democratic renewal of the state and economy that aims at benefiting the people. Thus, Plan B is the condition for the carrying out of the leftist program, and vice versa — Plan B cannot be carried out without putting such a program in place.

Since the euro is one strap on the straitjacket of neoliberalism — the other being the restrictive fiscal rules — the introduction of a national currency, and thereby, monetary sovereignty, it is one of the key aspects of Plan B. The untangling of these straps would undoubtedly be met with resistance on the part of international capital and its political representatives in the form of economic blows such as Greece has already experienced.

To fend against them, there are some possible measures such as: capital controls, unilateral cancellation of debt, seizure of property and management control over banking, coordinated industrial and investment policies, and the strengthening of the social economy.

The latter, however, cannot be accomplished in a day. Therefore the preparations to execute Plan B, political and otherwise, are of key importance, and include but are not limited to: the simultaneous execution of Plan A, the establishing of alternative international political and economic relations, and the search for allies outside and beyond the capitalist center.

Also of prime importance is connecting with leftist, workers, and other progressive movements from abroad, building the ties of solidarity that function as ramparts against the attacks of the capital. Plan B has to unfold as part of the international — and internationalist — struggle for a different world.

Many may think that the mere contemplation of Plan B is radical, let alone the conviction that it is an indispensable part of the leftist strategy for Europe. But, in the words of Bertolt Brecht, one needs to always be “as radical as reality itself.”

In a time when fascism is once again a normalized part of the European political space, and the barbed wire a common manner of the demarcation of state borders, a quest for alternative ways to social change is, from the perspective of leftist strategies, the only approach that can withstand reality.