Which way out of the trap?

May 6, 2015

Greece's left-wing government is being pushed closer to the brink of default--with unknown consequences for the economy in Greece and across Europe--by relentless pressure from the European political and financial elite to impose the same austerity measures that previous governments agreed to, and that the left-wing SYRIZA came to power vowing to oppose.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis agreed to a wholesale retreat from SYRIZA's election program with the deal negotiated in February with the Eurogroup finance ministers that continued the bailout of the Greek financial system for four months, at the cost of continuing the policies required under the Memorandums. Since then, the Greek government has made offers of further concessions, but the European rulers have not loosened their iron grip on the economy.

In the latest issue of its newspaper Workers' Left, the socialist group Internationalist Workers Left--a co-founder of SYRIZA in 2004 and a leading voice in the party's Left Platform--published this editorial calling for drawing a line against the blackmail of the lenders.

THE STANCE of the lenders--building on the disastrous concessions made by the previous Samaras-Venizelos government, but also the major mistakes contained in the February 20 agreement--has lured the SYRIZA-led government into a fatal trap.

It is obligated not only to make full and timely payments on interest and successive installments of state debt, but to pay wages, pensions and other social commitments--all without any resources available to it from outside Greece and with tight restrictions on borrowing from the Greek banking system. This is the same banking system that was "recapitalized" with tens of billions of euros from the state, which contributed greatly to putting the government in the difficult position it faces today.

The recent decree putting all available funds held by local governments and public institutions under the control of the Bank of Greece--which is still headed by Yannis Stournaras, the former finance minister under the previous right-wing government led by Antonis Samaras--shows that there is little time before the trap is sprung.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (Martin Schulz)

If the government doesn't find an alternative, it will soon be forced to seek loans so it can pay salaries and pensions, not merely interest and debt payments. And the pressure will become overwhelming for the government to sign a third Memorandum that the lenders are clearly demanding as a minimum condition for loosening the noose around Greece.

Such a development would be disastrous for the government--opening up possibilities that the SYRIZA-controlled government would be transformed into one of "national unity," representing pro-austerity parties--and for the hopes of workers and popular movements that blossomed this year in Greece.

The only escape from this trap is stop payments to the lenders, both international and local, and use all available funds and resources to meet social needs. This means the government would have to choose a break--with international governments and "institutions" like the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, but also with forces within Greece that agreed to the Memorandum policies, applied them with fervor and became rich because of them.

A break on this scale cannot be initiated at the last moment. It is necessary to prepare. The government must prepare alternative measures and develop the means to realize them. SYRIZA as a party must prepare to become an active and mobilized--and to challenge any policies or statements they disagree with that the party leadership presents in their name.

Political alliances must be prepared by opening up discussions throughout the left, which must also rise to the occasion. The working class and the popular masses, who are beginning to recognize the reality of the confrontation facing them, must also prepare. All this must be directed toward building the largest possible social and political resistance.

Without these preparations, the danger of Greece heading in the opposite direction--whatever the intension of those who wish to remain committed to a left-wing program--becomes greater every day.

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