It has been a scarce two weeks since the Greek working class put the radical Syriza party into power in Greece. They did that to put an end to the starvation there – to 65% youth unemployment, to thousands having to pick through garbage cans for food, to living without electricity. In doing that, the Greek working class took front and center in the global struggle against capitalism’s attacks. That’s why all workers, and all those involved in the struggle against capitalism, should take an interest in what is happening there, and learn the lessons.
With a situation similar to the Latin American “debt crisis” of some decades ago, the Greek government will run out of money by the end of February. So far, they have been bailed out mainly by the European Union bankers, at the cost of being forced to cut and cut and cut some more. Syriza and its central leader, Alexis Tsipras, came to power on the promise of reversing that. But what are his plans? He and his government cannot rehire laid-off government workers if the government has no – literally no – money. Nor can they reinstitute government services.
Traveling Throughout Europe
So the solution of Tsipras has been to travel around Europe, meeting with and negotiatingwith various leaders of European capital. Yesterday, he was in Brussels, meeting with Jean-Calude Juncker, president of the European Commission. On Tuesday, Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis was in Italy to meet with his Italian and British counterparts. He will also be meeting with the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.
All around Europe these two are traveling, trying to convince European capital that Greece cannot and will not continue down the same road. The hope, presumably, is that they could divide the enemy, getting some of the European capitalist governments to agree to granting Greece additional time and money. So far, things are not going well.
European Working Class
But a key player has been left standing on the sidelines: The working class of the rest of Europe. While Tsipras and Varoufakis are traveling their rounds, negotiating with the enemy, they seem to be ignoring their most important ally in those countries – the workers.
The central fact is this: So far, European capital has made some headway in cutting the living standards of European workers, but nowhere near enough by their standards. While austerity in Greece has not restored the Greek economy, that was never its main purpose. Its main purpose was to use newly introduced Third World living standards in Greece to batter the living standards of German, French, Belgian, etc. workers. In other words, the old race to the bottom.
There is nothing wrong with the Syriza government negotiating with European capital. Even enemy generals negotiate with each other. But to do so without mobilizing the potential troops is a serious mistake at the least. Everywhere Tsipras and Varoufakis go, Syriza should also be sending representatives to help rally the workers of those countries to explain what is at stake, to explain that it is not “Greece” against “Germany” or any other country; instead it is the race to the bottom, a race in which all workers lose.
The fact remains: The Greek working class cannot stand up to the united European capital no more than could the Greek army stand up to the armies of the rest of Europe. And the stakes are high: If Tsipras backs down, this will hugely demoralize the Greek workers. And if he doesn’t, then by early next month if European capital isn’t forced to make concessions, then the Greek government will be out of cash, causing a really huge crisis for Greek workers. Nor is Greece leaving the EU a solution, as that would provoke a similar crisis, plus mass inflation to boot.
Racism and Nationalism
The global struggle against racism is also involved. Greece is a central entry point for refugees into Western Europe from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. Every hot spot – Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Congo – sees thousands of people fleeing, many of whom pass through – or settle in – Greece. Syriza has taken a positive stance on immigration, but their support could collapse overnight if they are unable to show a way forward. Waiting in the wings is the fascist (literally), and racist Golden Dawn party. In the past, they carried out
physical assaults against immigrants in Greece. They and their allies would make a come-back if Syriza fails. If that happens, it will give an impetus to racist forces throughout Europe and, in fact, globally.
So there’s a lot at stake in Greece for all of us.