Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Greece and the Left, the fight against Austerity continues through the EU, not for a ‘new Britain’.

with 16 comments


Europe’s Left: No Retreat to Nationalist anti-European Politics. 

Alexis Tsipras’s grip on power suffers a blow with 32 of his own MPs rebelling as the Greek parliament votes in favour of new austerity measure against a backdrop of violence on the streets of Athens reports the Telegraph.

There are many things to say about the developing Greek crisis but I am still  struck by the information given in Le Monde on Tuesday about the “Explosive Propositions of Wolfgang Schäuble“.

The German Fiannce Minister, Schäuble, wanted Greece out of the Euro (no doubt to the satisfaction of the ‘left’ critics of Syriza’s leadership ), for a “provisional” period (not enough, would say the ‘left’, the True Finns and Golden Dawn). He also demanded a through-going “depolitisation” of the country;s administration, under close EU supervision (not something the ‘left’ would welcome one suspects).

The details behind this are a lot worse – as presented by Jack Rasmus,

Why Hardliners Prefer Grexit

It is a known fact that Schaubel and the ‘right wing’ of Euro bankers and ministers have wanted to eject Greece from the Euro since 2012. In that prior debt restructuring deal, private bankers and investors were ‘paid off’ and exited the Greek debt by means of loans made by the Troika, which were then imposed on Greece to pay. 2012 was a banker-investor bailout, not a Greece bailout. What was left was debt mostly owed by Greece to the Troika, more than $300 billion. Greece’s small economy of barely $180 billion GDP annually can never pay off that debt. Even if Greece grew at 4% GDP a year, an impossibility given that Europe and even Germany have been growing at barely 1% in recent years, and even if Greece dedicated all its surplus GDP to paying the debt, it would take close to a half century for Greece to pay off all its current debt.

Schaubel and the northern Europe bankers know this. In 2012, in the midst of a second Eurozone recession and financial instability, it was far more risky to the Euro banker system to cut Greece loose. Today they believe, however, that the Eurozone is stronger economically and more stable financially. They believe, given the European Central Bank’s $1.2 trillion QE slush fund, that contagion effects from a Greek exit can be limited. Supporters of this view argue that Greece’s economy is only 1.2% of the larger Eurozone’s.

What they don’t understand, apparently, is that size of GDP is irrelevant to contagion. They forget that the Lehman Brothers bank in 2008 in the US represented a miniscule percent of US GDP, and we know what happened. Quantitative references are meaningless when the crux of financial instability always has to do with unpredictable psychological preferences of investors, who have a strong proclivity to take their money and run after they have made a pile of it—which has been the case since 2009. Investors globally will likely run for cover like lemmings if they believe as a group that the global financial system has turned south financially—given the problems growing in China, with oil prices now falling again, with commodity prices in decline once more, with Japan’s QE a complete failure, and with the US economy clearly slowing and the US central bank moves closer to raising interest rates. Greece may contribute to that psychological ‘tipping point’ as events converge.

But there’s another, perhaps even more profitable reason for hardliners and Euro bankers wanting to push Greece out. And that’s the now apparent failure of Eurozone QE (quantitative easing) policies of the European Central Bank to generate Eurozone stock and asset price appreciation investors have been demanding.

Unlike in the US and UK 2009-2014 QE policies that more than doubled stock prices and investors’ capital gains, the ECB’s QE has not led to a stock boom. Like Japan recently, the Eurozone’s stock boom has quickly dissipated. The perception is that stock stimulus from the Eurozone’s QE, introduced six months ago, is perhaps being held back by the Greek negotiations. Euro bankers and investors increasingly believe that by cutting Greece loose (and limiting the contagion effects with QE and more statements of ‘whatever it takes’ by central banker, Mario Draghi) that Grexit might actually lead to a real surge in Euro stock markets. Thus, throwing Greece away might lead to investors making bigger financial profits. In other words, there’s big money to be made on the private side by pushing Greece out.

So, when we are talking about Syriza’s ‘betrayal’  bear this in mind.

Read it carefully.

Most will rightly, dismiss as stale air, calls for a “true” revolutionary party which will abolish these difficulties, and no doubt make the bankers and Schäuble disappear from the Earth’s surface.

But there are serious people inside Syriza, the Left Platform,  who offered an alternative strategy to Tsparis and who have not accepted the present deal.

One of their leading spokespeople, Stahis Kouvelalkis  has declared of the pro-EU Syriza leadership (this could apply more widely to others on the left – to Tendance Coatesy amongst many others) (Greece: The Struggle Continues ):

So for these people the choice is between two things: either being “European” and accepting the existing framework, which somehow objectively represents a step forward compared the old reality of nation-states, or being “anti-European” which is equated with a falling back into nationalism, a reactionary, regressive move.

This is a weak way in which the European Union is legitimated — it might not be ideal but it’s better than anything else on the table.

I think that in this case we can clearly see what the ideology at work here is. Although you don’t positively sign up to the project and you have serious doubts about the neoliberal orientation and top-down structure of European institutions, nevertheless you move within its coordinates and can’t imagine anything better outside of its framework.

This is the meaning of the kind of denunciations of Grexit as a kind of return to the 1930s or Grexit as a kind of apocalypse. This is the symptom of the leadership’s own entrapment in the ideology of left-Europeanism.

Kouvelakis cites the Greek Marxist political writer Nicos Poulantzas, who wrote and lived in France for most of his career,  to back his anti-EU ideology.

He says that Poulantzas said the following.

Yes, Poulantzas talked about European integration in the first part of his book on social classes in contemporary capitalism, in which he analyzes the processes of internationalization of capital and he clearly considered the European Economic Community an example of an imperialist form of internationalization of European capital within the framework of what he considered the new postwar structural hegemony of the United States.

Poulantzas indeed made this analysis in Les Classes sociales dans le capitalisme aujourd’hui, (1974)

But in L’État, le pouvoir, le socialisme (1978) Poulantzas offered an alternative to the domination of capital: a fusion of direct and representative democracy based ont eh workers’ movement and civil society. He famously stated that the state, is a ” « condensation matérielle d’un rapport de force entre les classes et fractions de classe » (a material condensation of relations between classes and fractions of classes).

The European Union is a judicial and economic  framework which is, self-evidently,  linked to these relations of changeable power.

It is not only a cabal of finance ministers, EU Commissioners,  and neo-liberals who can do as they will – if there is a large enough power to stop them.

To change the EU,  to fight neo-liberalism,  requires a different relation of force: based on Europe-wide unity between the popular classes and lefts.

It means a political movement, across borders, with institutional weight.

The European Parliament, without any effective influence on EU decision-making, which is essentially inter-Ministerial and Commission based,  is nevertheless a point where these bonds can, and are, made, through groups like the European Left Party – however weak they may be at present.

To leave the EU is to leave these potential ties of unity.

It is to give up the game at the first sign of difficulty – to follow those, misguided or simply opportunist ‘friends’ of Syriza who now turn on them when they have run into trouble.

It is to set the course for naked domination by the forces of international capital.

Or to put is more simply, no country, nor left, is in a position to  break free of  the IMF’s clutches, not to mention world financial markets.

Those on the Syriza left who proposed a Grexit, the centrepice of their economic plans, have yet to answer the point: would they have either offered a viable package, and how would they have warded off the financial locusts described by Rasmus?

They have yet to give a serious response.

A ‘New Britain’.

The Greek crisis has been a perceived as proof that the ‘pro-European’ left has failed, largely by those who were already convinced that this is so.

Briefly basking in Syriza’s reflected glory they have now returned to their own political projects.

In France, apart from the anti-Euro and ‘Sovereigntist’  Front National, a minority of the Parti de Gauche (45%) voted at their recent conference for this as part of a general “Eurosceptic” line (Libération).  Their leader, JeanLuc Mélenchon, has made frequent nationalist and anti-German remarks during the Greek crisis.

He said a few days ago,

“Pour la troisième fois dans l’histoire de l’Europe, l’obstination d’un gouvernement allemand est en train de détruire l’Europe”

For the third time in the History of Europe, the obstination of the German government is destroying Europe.

There is little doubt the same mood exists across Europe.

In Britain some see the Greek crisis as a sign to join in the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union.

This, Owen Jones dreams, would ” focus on building a new Britain, one of workers’ rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice. Such a populist campaign could help the left reconnect with working-class communities it lost touch with long ago.”

Unfortunately this option will appear on no Referendum Ballot paper, when, one assumes the believers in a New Britain will mark their slips in the same way as the ‘populists’ of the far-right,  and hard-line anti-socialist economic liberals.

As Jim Denham rightly says, “The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neoliberal European Union, but forward, to a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.”

In the meantime here are some serious articles by people the Tendance respects (though disagrees with) on Syriza and the present crisis:

Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin: Treating SYRIZA responsibly (Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal)
Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, Athens


Update: A reminder from UNITE,

Remaining in the EU is essential for manufacturing workers

02 April 2015 By Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary

Two-thirds of manufacturing jobs in the UK are sustained by trade with the rest of the EU.

Between 2009 and 2011 the number of manufacturing jobs in the UK dependent on trade with the EU grew by 15 per cent.

But it is not just the economics that make membership crucial it is also the protection that workers have because of the EU.

Talk of employment directives may seem dry but protecting our members rights at work have come about because we belong to the EU, and because Unite and other trade unions have fought long and hard to achieve them.

Parental leave has been extended to at least four months for each parent no matter what type of employment contract a worker may be on.

Thousands of workers in part time jobs can no longer be treated less favourably  than their counterparts who work full time.

Bosses don’t want anything that might interfere with their right to hire and fire at will so anything that provides protection for temporary agency workers from gross exploitation are hard fought. But we have been able to do it.

One of the major protections for workers is the transfers of undertakings directive a vital piece of legislation that guarantees workers’ rights and obligations in company takeovers and mergers – there was a time when companies could dismiss and automatically sack their entire workforces upon the transfer or sale of a business.

The working time directive protects workers from being forced to more than 48 hours on average and guarantees breaks during and between shits.

And lest we forget – guaranteed paid annual leave, of at least four weeks (28 days a year) – which now thanks to Unite has to be paid at average pay.

There have been massive improvements on equal pay; the right to be consulted on redundancies; to have information about your company and for workers in multinational companies the right to be heard and consulted at European level and improvements on health and safety.

Tory Eurosceptics and Ukip echo the right wing and defeated Tea Party in the United States offering Britain a prospectus of becoming an offshore financial centre – like Hong Kong.  Left to them we will become Europe’s economic and political renegade.

If the Tories and Ukip get their way they will set us on this calamitous course to exit the EU. That’s why manufacturing workers need to vote Labour on 7 May.


16 Responses

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  1. Great stuff, Andrew, there is no doubt that we are becoming enslaved by the interests of international capital supported by neoliberal politics. I completely agree too that there needs to be Europe-wide unity among those that oppose the morals, ethics and outcomes of this agenda. And now more than ever the left needs to find a united banner to get behind.

    Anti-austerity is a powerful driving force but we have seen recently, particularly in the UK, that this isn’t enough to attract the majority of the electorate. Unfortunately societies are still in thrall to the myth that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ and that most people still (even if subconsciously) feel that what generates big bucks somewhere in the economy must ultimately benefit all. This is why conservative politics so often wins in times of change and turmoil.

    But we now very well of course that this is complete bullshit, and people like Piketty and Stiglitz have been important in bringing the perils and inevitability of neoliberal inequality into the public eye. But to the working class and most other this looks like obscure academic chit chat . It simply is not being translated into the powerful and unifying narrative that it could be and so the left is failing to mobilise sufficient political force to institute change. Across the left we need to shout, publicise, write and talk as much as we can to dispel the myths created by decades of neoliberal (and orthodox) capitalism. Maybe then we can find a banner that the European left can unite behind.

    The Samurai Socialist

    July 16, 2015 at 2:12 pm

  2. Andrew Coates

    July 16, 2015 at 4:48 pm

  3. Well, good luck with that, Andrew. I’m not going to waste much time making the left-wing anti-EU case. I’m just going to sit back and let Merkel and Schäuble make that case for me. They are just so much more eloquent than I could ever be.


    July 16, 2015 at 5:18 pm

  4. Originally on Shiraz…

    Andrew Coates

    July 16, 2015 at 5:36 pm

  5. […] a ‘left’ fairy tale that should be laid to rest. Unilateral drausterity was always the worse option compared to EU-imposed […]

  6. Guess who?

    “I would be lying if I said that this week’s events haven’t made me think twice. But it’s exactly when times are hard that it’s worth reflecting on the bigger picture: the real value of Europe is about unity in diversity. What’s happening in Greece should drive us towards greater solidarity, not less. We must join Podemos and Syriza in calling for the EU to be rebuilt, not retreat into our corner and cut off ties with our fellow Europeans.

    And in this globalised world – where multinational companies cross borders with ease – we need a cross-border organisation that gives us a powerful collective voice to advance the inter-related principles of environmental, economic and social justice. The EU has enormous potential to spread peace, freedom and security in and around Europe, as well as further afield. It’s with this vision in mind that I’ll be campaigning to stay in Europe.”

  7. The SNP are pro EU I believe.
    good article, however, Jim Denham’s proposal is not realistic.
    there is a kind of left/right unity on this, but in every case, you end up with uncomfortable bed fellows. ie if not the far right, then with the neoliberals.

    the person who speaks the most sense on this issue is Harpal Brar.


    July 17, 2015 at 12:43 am

  8. For the information of comrades; Mark Osborne of the AWL reports on the EU debate at the SWP’s ‘Marxism’ event:

    Last weekend, at the SWP’s much-reduced Marxism event, the SWP discussed the forthcoming EU referendum.

    Paul McGarr, one of their leaders, put the case for a “socialist no vote”. Having advocated this position in their paper, and — apparently — met significant opposition, the SWP top brass have declared a period of discussion on the question in the run up to their December conference.

    Ominously, he declared that this debate would take place, “in the best democratic traditions of the SWP.” And in the spirit of that tradition he began a 35 minute speech in favour of a “no vote”; those advocating “yes” were limited to three minutes each from the floor.

    It is not clear that the “yes” supporters found anything unusual about this procedure, although in the AWL the leadership would not be allowed such a privilege, and opposing views would be allocated equal time from a platform.

    Perhaps the “yes” supporters were just glad to get some sort of hearing. They were tentative and we got a glimpse of what they might expect as a couple of leadership supporters wound themselves up for rhetorical effect.

    McGarr told us the EU was a neo-liberal bosses’ club. He did so in such a way that made me understand he thought the vote would be on a question he’d written. Perhaps the choice in his imagination is: “Neo-liberalism or socialism?” The real choice, in the real world, will be between an existing EU, with all its faults, and a tiny, isolated capitalist Britain with a government led by Tories who are even worse than Cameron and a resurgent UKIP and fascist right.

    Why would socialists want to help that happen? Why would we want to help the far right to put up further barriers between the UK and the rest of Europe? Generally the job of socialists is to reduce and remove borders.

    McGarr and co. want us to make an equation between the Greek Oxi (No in the recent Greek referendum) and a British No. There are just two problems with this: 1. the questions are different; 2. what is popularly understood by Oxi-No is different.

    The 5 July Greek referendum was a vote on whether to accept the harsh austerity conditions advocated by the IMF, EU and ECB. The Greeks voted “no”, which was understood as a left vote made along class lines by the working class (despite some support from some of the smaller right wing parties). The UK referendum will be on membership of the EU (and, given the nature of the campaign, on our attitude to foreigners). A “no” vote in the UK will be seen as a vote for UKIP and the Tory right (despite support from some very small far left parties).

    A”no” vote in the UK will produce a big political shift to the right and an across-the-board assault on migrant workers’ rights.

    McGarr rubbished this idea, suggesting a possible attack on migrants is of little interest, as the EU is already racist against migrants fleeing Africa in small boats headed for Europe. However, EU withdrawal will do nothing at all to alter EU policy towards African migrants, but will do a great deal to alter, for the worse, UK policy towards Polish and Romanian migrants.

    McGarr went on to complain that those who are bothered about a “no” vote producing a racist backlash in the UK have illusions in the “yes” camp. McGarr told us it was absurd to think Cameron is an anti-racist!

    If I’d been allowed to speak I would have made a couple of very simple points on this matter. First, Workers’ Liberty has no illusions at all that Cameron is an anti-racist, which is why we told the SWP’s leadership it was wrong to get his signature on the founding statement of Unite Against Fascism. Second, while we have no illusions in the official “yes” campaign, it will be fragrant in comparison to the “no” campaign. All we ask is that the difference is noted.

    McGarr then told us his partner and his child are Danish. I guess Copenhagen is not so far away and perhaps he figures after a “no” victory he’ll be able to visit them during school holidays.

    Certainly he can’t possibly believe what he actually said: that a “no” vote will be a big blow against Cameron, and one which will throw open British politics and provide an opportunity for the left. Indeed a “no” vote will be a big blow for Cameron; the idea that Cameron’s fall will be to our benefit is fantasy. If Cameron goes after a “no” victory, someone worse will get his job.

    Finally, it is not clear to me that the SWP’s famous ability to sniff out the next recruit, if necessary by abandoning tiresome political principles, isn’t failing. As the referendum nears the “no” campaign will become more-and-more rabid.

    I can’t see radical students and youth being willing to go anywhere near a “Socialist No Campaign”.

    Jim Denham

    July 17, 2015 at 7:55 am

  9. This is depressing:

    Jürgen Habermas’s verdict on the EU/Greece debt deal – full transcript
    Philip Oltermann

    Guardian: What is your verdict on the deal reached on Monday?

    Habermas: The Greek debt deal announced on Monday morning is damaging both in its result and the way in which it was reached. First, the outcome of the talks is ill-advised. Even if one were to consider the strangulating terms of the deal the right course of action, one cannot expect these reforms to be enacted by a government which by its own admission does not believe in the terms of the agreement.

    Secondly, the outcome does not make sense in economic terms because of the toxic mixture of necessary structural reforms of state and economy with further neoliberal impositions that will completely discourage an exhausted Greek population and kill any impetus to growth.

    Thirdly, the outcome means that a helpless European Council is effectively declaring itself politically bankrupt: the de facto relegation of a member state to the status of a protectorate openly contradicts the democratic principles of the European Union. Finally, the outcome is disgraceful because forcing the Greek government to agree to an economically questionable, predominantly symbolic privatisation fund cannot be understood as anything other than an act of punishment against a left-wing government. It’s hard to see how more damage could be done.

    The European Council is effectively declaring itself politically bankrupt
    And yet the German government did just this when finance minister Schaeuble threatened Greek exit from the euro, thus unashamedly revealing itself as Europe’s chief disciplinarian. The German government thereby made for the first time a manifest claim for German hegemony in Europe – this, at any rate, is how things are perceived in the rest of Europe, and this perception defines the reality that counts. I fear that the German government, including its social democratic faction, have gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century – and by “better” I mean a Germany characterised by greater political sensitivity and a post-national mentality.

    More here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/16/jurgen-habermas-eu-greece-debt-deal

    Andrew Coates

    July 17, 2015 at 11:59 am

  10. Depressing, yes – but surprising? It takes more than a pretty blue starry flag and a few rousing renditions of the overture to Charpentier’s Te Deum to stop Europeans behaving like Europeans – i.e., decidedly not in solidarity with the rest of the continent. And the EU can easily be wielded as an instrument for one nation to get the better of others. QED.

    I’d keep Te Deum, though – a great piece of music, and part of our common European heritage.


    July 17, 2015 at 12:16 pm

  11. Andrew Coates

    July 17, 2015 at 12:22 pm

  12. I completely agree with Jim and Andrew.

    I wrote today on the MH17 anniversary my cynical take on what will happen, namely that Russia will get away with it. > http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/mh17-russia-did-it-endof.html

    Forgotten in this EU debate is Russia and its desire to destroy the EU. This is not a passive wish but something it does openly through, for example, funding the Front National.

    The left goes on and on about the American imperialists, seeing them everywhere. Yet here we have another imperialism corrupting Britain, supporting stalinists and fascists and conspiracy theorists and trying to dominate the EU’s smaller countries.

    Why is that not a factor in whether we support the EU?

  13. That is quite true about the finances for the Front National (‘loans’ actually).

    People have already forgotten this.

    “Mediapart publie les textos d’un responsable russe désireux de «remercier» le FN pour son soutien à l’annexion de la Crimée en mars 2014. Quelques mois avant que le parti ne reçoive des prêts d’origine russe. ”

    April 2015.


    Andrew Coates

    July 17, 2015 at 6:04 pm

  14. Paul writes: “Forgotten in this EU debate is Russia and its desire to destroy the EU. This is not a passive wish but something it does openly through, for example, funding the Front National.

    “The left goes on and on about the American imperialists, seeing them everywhere. Yet here we have another imperialism corrupting Britain, supporting stalinists and fascists and conspiracy theorists and trying to dominate the EU’s smaller countries.

    “Why is that not a factor in whether we support the EU?”

    Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos, mentioned the threat of Russian imperialism in his comments on the throttling of Tsipras and SYRIZA:

    “The contempt for democracy shown by the Germans and certain financial elites pains me. For someone to be brave enough to call a referendum, and with such a wide majority, and for the Greeks to say “enough”, and for there then to be such contempt for democracy, such that it seems that cynical reason has triumphed – “it doesn’t matter what people vote for, we are going to go on calling the shots. It doesn’t matter how you vote. It doesn’t matter what people think.” Well, this is bad news for democracy, and it prefigures bleak future scenarios. If it goes on like this, perhaps the next elections in France will be won by Marine Le Pen. And France has nuclear weapons, Le Pen would have no trouble forming an alliance with Russia, and I don’t want that. But I think we are governed by anti-democrats that are moreover showing a lack of common sense. They are bringing us along a very dangerous slope. What has happened in Greece these days is the worst of news for democracy. The European financial elites have responded to a referendum like dictators. That is bad. That is dangerous.”



    July 17, 2015 at 8:08 pm

  15. From the Marxism List, (http://www.marxmail.org/)

    “Is there blame for Syriza’s defeat?

    You cannot launch ‘asymmetric political warfare’ against against the
    German ruling elite unless you are prepared for battle. The party, the
    cadres, the supporters, the government, the bureaucracy must all be
    mobilised, prepared and steeled for the financial onslaught of the
    transition period. What did all the Syriza ministers who resigned from
    government do to prepare Greece for a difficult transition out of the
    Euro? Did they call on the Syriza government to prepare ? What did
    Varoufakis (who I personally admire), a senior minister in charge of the
    Greek economy do to prepare? By the accounts we have, Varoufakis and the
    other ministers did nothing, not a thing, to prepare for Grexit. What
    did the radical left outside of Syriza do? It seems they to did nothing.
    From the limited accounts one has in English, the Greek non-Syriza left
    parties also did nothing to call on the government to prepare. How about
    the now trenchant critics who are now lambasting Syriza for going down
    the ?Blair road? like John Pilger and Tariq Ali? Did they realise and
    discuss a vast logistical effort that would be required? It seems that
    they did not.

    When Tsipras left for Europe after the triumph of the Oxi vote I think
    he realised that his party, his ministers and those ministers to the
    radical left of his party had left him with nothing to fight with apart
    from some pats on the shoulder, a referendum result and cheers from the
    crowds, all of which mean little if you are going to challenge the
    teutonic beast standing far above you on top of a mountain of money.
    With no organisation, no preparation, no mobilisation.. Surrender and
    the signing of a temporary truce was the only possible option.

    If the left/radical left of Syriza resign en masse then Syriza will move
    to the center and join forces with the center left, creating a block
    that will once again coral the left into the sectarian arms of the Greek
    Communist Party, the KKE. Well, isnt that better ? Not quite. What did
    the ?sectarian? so called ?hardline communists? of KKE do in the 1988
    political crisis in Greece. Why, they joined in coalition government
    with… New Democracy, the main right wing party and then with PASOK,
    the centre left party.”


    Andrew Coates

    July 18, 2015 at 3:40 pm

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