The drive for “national unity”

June 16, 2015

Negotiations between European officials and the Greek government led by the radical left party SYRIZA remain deadlocked as the European Union (EU) continues to apply maximum pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to capitulate completely on the anti-austerity program SYRIZA proposed in the campaign for elections on January 25.

In February, less than a month after taking office Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis agreed to an extension of the bailout of the Greek financial system negotiated by previous governments and promised to carry out austerity measures that SYRIZA had promised to reverse. But this wasn't good enough for the EU--it has continued to starve Greece of funds, even money it owes to the country, in order to extract still more concessions from Tsipras. The Greek government is now very close to the point where it will have to choose between repayments on its international debt or paying wages and pensions.

SYRIZA's left wing, grouped together in the Left Platform, is calling for the government to stop making debt repayments and devote all available resources to improving the conditions for Greece's workers and the poor, by imposing high taxes on corporations and the rich. At the start of the month, Tsipras announced that the government would not pay an installment due to the International Monetary Fund, and he appeared in parliament to denounce the EU's extortion tactics. But he has continued to propose new concessions in the hopes of winning an agreement with the lenders. In his speech in parliament, he challenged pro-austerity parties--the center-right New Democracy and center-left PASOK, both of which participated in negotiating the bailout and accompanying Memorandums, as well as the newly formed To Potami, which is also pro-austerity--to say where they stood on the neogitations.

Antonis Davanellos, a Central Committee member of SYRIZA and well-known leader of the Left Platform, commented on the attitude of the pro-austerity parties and the emerging strategy to force SYRIZA into a government of "national unity" that includes at least some of them. His article appeared in Workers Left, the newspaper of the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), a co-founder of SYRIZA in 2004 and a key organization within the Left Platform today.

THE EXTREME aggressiveness of the lenders but also the retreats of the SYRIZA leadership--in letting itself be trapped by the February 20 agreement and now hopelessly insisting that a solution to the crisis must come through negotiations--are creating opportunities for the political forces that were defeated in the January 25 election to go on the counter-offensive.

To Potami is becoming a prominent proponent of the line that Greece must have "agreement at any cost" with the lenders. Relying on the growing pressure of the Greek political and media establishment's calls for eliminating the left and its views from SYRIZA, Potami--led by its founder, media personality Stavros Theodorakis--contrasts its own availability to create an enlarged governing coalition on a more right-wing basis.

Even for those who plan for it, however, this solution is only temporary--Theodorakis' neoliberal rhetoric only has value as a forerunner of a general turn toward scenarios of a broader "national unity" government. This was illustrated by the recent debate in parliament, along with the corresponding maneuvering of other, more substantial players.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras presents SYRIZA's program in parliament
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

New Democracy leader and former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is also demanding that an agreement with the lenders be signed immediately, has presented his proposal for a "large coalition" to run Greece. The reference to the German "grand coalition"--the alliance of the center-right Christian Democrats and center-left Social Democrats that laid the foundations for the rise of neoliberalism--is obvious.

The conditions that Samaras proposes for the coalition were calculated to win support, but also symbolic, since meeting them would constitute an admission of the defeat of the government's promise of a radical-left policy: No slanders against the officials overseeing the Memorandums; no reinstatement of the public-sector workers laid off under previous governments; and no overturning of privatization initiatives.

The leader of the right wing is taking aim at the possibility of new elections, in the hopes of cutting off this option for SYRIZA to resist the pressure. Elections, Samaras warned, would mean choosing "sectarian polarization." Such words, when they come from the lips of the leader of the extreme right within New Democracy, represent a clear threat.

With such threats, combined with the media pressure for a return to stable relations with the lenders, Samaras is trying to maneuver Alexis Tsipras into the suicidal prospect of a coalition based around a new Memorandum.

These inflammatory points of his speech weren't enough, of course, to cover up the fact that Samaras is a has-been following New Democracy's defeat in the January election. But these messages from the main party of the right in Greece will become more significant if an dwhen a new leadership emerges to take up the fight in the conflict with SYRIZA.

The problems of PASOK are greater. The responsibilities of this one-time dominant center-left party for the policies of neoliberalism aren't easy to hide. The former leader Evangelos Venizelos has been forced to accept that he must step aside, while Fofi Gennimata, the newly elected president of PASOK at a conference this month, is clearly not capable of what would be required to make the party popular again.

Nevertheless, the PASOK record of selling compromise is valuable to the ruling class, especially when it needs to push austerity. It was characteristic of Venizelos when, in his speech to parliament, he revealed that the proposals for restructuring Greece's debt contained in the government's 47-page proposal to the lenders are...his own ideas carried out in collaboration with the financial consulting company Lazard.

THE LEADERSHIP of SYRIZA should view as a warning the line followed by Golden Dawn during the parliamentary debate.

The "fuhrer" of the Nazi organization, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, chose to limit himself to demagoguery against the plutocrats, avoiding the usual racist and nationalist baits. Despite the fact that Golden Dawn has been forced onto the defensive by the anti-fascist and anti-racist movements, despite the seriousness of the revelations about its criminal activities, the leadership of the Nazis are hoping to find opportunities in the crisis that SYRIZA will face if the party capitulates to the extortion of the lenders.

The statement of the Communist Party (KKE) through MP Dimitris Koutsoubas was interesting. The party's general secretary proposed united actions between the KKE and the working class supporters of SYRIZA, by coming together to organize struggles against austerity, in the public hospitals, etc. But this overture will go nowhere as long as the KKE does not distinguish between SYRIZA and the bourgeois parties--as long as it cannot formulate a tactic that takes into account the profound differences between SYRIZA and the pro-austerity camp of New Democracy, PASOK, Potami and so on.

It is obvious that if the leadership of SYRIZA retreats in the face of the lenders' blackmail, it will open the way for rapid political shifts in a rightward direction, sooner or later producing a government of national unity.

To avoid this disaster, we need to answer the extortion of the lenders from abroad. But we also urgently need to open a front at home: to take measures to improve the conditions of Greek workers and the poor at the expense of the bankers, industrialists and shipowners, even if only with the basic measures proposed by SYRIZA during its election campaign.

Reinforcing the social alliance among workers and the poor against the Greek capitalists and their international allies is the only way for a government of the left to survive. To continue with the illusion of the government's leaders that a solution to satisfy all sides can be found without this confrontation will lead quickly to the defeat of the hopes from the January 25 election, the formation of a government of "national unity" and finally the restoration of stability under the pro-austerity regime.

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