Greece’s loan-shark government

November 17, 2011

After days of feverish negotiations, the main parties of Greece's political establishment agreed on a "government of national salvation" led by Lucas Papademos, a former official of the European Central Bank. Both the center-left PASOK party of former Prime Minister George Papandreou, which led the previous government, and the right-wing New Democracy (ND), the chief opposition to PASOK, backed the new Papademos government, with leading members of each party taking positions in it.

Now, the new government faces the challenge of imposing drastic austerity measures demanded by European political and business leaders in return for the financial "rescue" of the Greek economy. Here, we publish an edited version of an editorial for the newspaper of the Greek socialist group Internationalist Workers Left (DEA, by its initials in Greek) that analyzes the new situation and the struggle ahead.

THE INCREDIBLE circus that lasted four days until a so-called "national salvation" government was finally formed is the most striking example of how deep Greece's political crisis has become. And the ruling class is facing this crisis at the worst possible time: As the financial crisis spirals out of control, both where it has struck and how deep it is hitting.

The handover of governmental power to a former European Central Bank official Lucas Papadimos is a stark symbol of how decision-making has been delivered directly to the bankers--to the local and international loan sharks.

The final agreement on Papadimos, after numerous "back and forth" negotiations between the leaderships of PASOK and New Democracy (ND), is proof of the total submission of the political class to the will of the ruling class.

After four days of quarrels, they were forced to accept the position put forward by political forces most nakedly devoted to preserving the capitalists' interests. The leader of the far right Georgios Karatzaferis, the notorious conservative Dora Bakogianni and the "guru" of extreme neoliberalism Stefanos Manos were the most constant supporters of a "national salvation" government and the most loyal fans of Papadimos as a prime minister--and in the end, they got their way.

Greece's new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos
Greece's new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos

So a new political front has been officially formed, with a wide spectrum of forces ranging from the social democrats to the far right. Its main unifying element is submission to the austerity program put forward as a condition of Greece's financial rescue by the so-called troika--the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund--and loyalty to the interests of Greece's creditors

THE GOVERNMENT of Papadimos is a product of compromises, negotiations and blackmail between PASOK and ND. By the way, it's worth mentioning that no one gave the two parties the legitimacy to carry out such bargaining and decide on a new government.

The paralyzing conflicts between different factions and groupings inside both of the two major parties is the best proof that the leaderships of PASOK and ND are being blown this way and that. This is a result of the huge gap between the policies they follow and the popular will, including the will of the parties' traditional electoral bases.

The government of Papadimos is also a product of the anti-democratic extortion carried out by the leadership of Europe. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy carried out their blackmail in the crudest possible way. And by the way, it's also worth mentioning that no one gave them the legitimacy to determine governments and crucial political decisions in the member states of the European Union.

At first glance, Papadimos' government seems like a strong one--a coalition government with the support of a wide range of political parties, most importantly, the two major parties of the country.

But in reality, it will be an extremely weak government--even weaker than the PASOK government that preceded it. Despite the crisis it faced and its inability to lead the country in the end, PASOK had taken office after a major political and electoral victory, and it maintained very important influence and organizational links to the trade unions.

The new government is unelected, it lacks any serious popular support, and it takes office after a four-day circus that made the political establishment a mockery, even in the eyes of moderate people who still maintained some sort of trust to "our nation's leaders."

And this government will have to succeed where the Papandreou government failed. It will have to accomplish the tasks that led to the collapse of Papandreou--to implement the latest package of multiple austerity measures that was voted through parliament over the will of the vast majority of the population, to carry out the layoffs of tens of thousands of public servants, to put forward a sweeping wave of privatizations, to implement collection of the unfair poll tax that many people refuse to pay, and to carry out even harsher measures that accompany the new loan agreement.

And it has to do all these things in even tougher circumstances: At a time that the crisis deepens and spreads, with Italy becoming its first victim.

BUT THE most serious problem that the new government will face is the same problem that Papandreou didn't manage to handle--the opposition from below, the fighting spirit of the people, their willingness to defend their living standards and their refusal to pay for the crisis.

This is the social force seen in the historic 48-hour general strike on October 19-20, the biggest since the fall of the military junta in 1974. This is the social force that disrupted military parades on October 28 and turned a typically respected patriotic holiday into a day of protest and demonstrations. This is the social force that threatens to burst into the scene once again and demolish the new government.

This is the force that causes so much trouble for the right-wing ND leader Antonis Samaras. It has stopped the ND from claiming a governmental majority in the polls, despite the disastrous crisis of PASOK. It has obliged Samaras to search in vain for some fig leaf behind which to hide the wholehearted participation of his party in the establishment consensus in favor of austerity.

But the efforts of the right-wing leader to hide behind meaningless procedural disagreements won't shield him fro popular anger. Indeed, the participation of high-profile figures from the ND in the new government strips him of any possibility to pose as a populist any more.

The Papadimos government is not just a caretaker, transitional government. It has a program: The enforcement of the new loan agreement during a very important period for the capitalists and their system. This government must absolutely be brought down--and it it is absolutely possible to do so.

We have no doubt that the resistance movement is capable of doing everything that needs to be done to accomplish goal. But the outcome of the coming battle may be determined by the role that the left plays within the movement.

The two far left electoral coalitions SYRIZA and ANTARSYA, together with the Communist Party, have important responsibilities before them:

To form a political platform that can unify the various struggles and oppose the plans of the ruling class. Reality itself determines the main points of such a platform: An immediate end in payments to local and international loan sharks; nationalization under workers' social control of the banks, as a way to control the speculative monsters of the private sector and in order to lay the basis for a general reversal of privatizations; not a single sacrifice in the name of saving the Euro currency; an immediate redistribution of wealth, by raising wages, pensions and social spending, and by heavily taxing profits and the rich, taxing the massive property of the church and cutting military expenditures drastically.

To achieve unity in action--a united left front as a distinctive political pole that supports the resistance movement and that can gain the trust and support of ordinary people.

To provide a convincing alternative when it comes to questions of government and power. That means challenging the claims that the rule of local and international capitalists is the only way--and making socialism an attractive and desirable perspective for the vast majority of wage earners and youth.

In any case, the developments ahead will be historic--with the next step being the defeat of the government backed by PASOK, ND and their "willing" allies.

This government that threatens our people is, like Frankenstein, an uncontrollable monster, created from mismatched components. But it also a government that may soon prove to be short-lived.

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