Can Europe Make It?

Syriza’s dilemma, and ours

Do the “agreements” reached on July 13 mark the end of an era? Yes, but certainly not in the sense suggested by the press release of the “summit”. Italiano. Français.

Etienne Balibar Sandro Mezzadra Frieder Otto Wolf
22 July 2015
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Alexis Tsipras, February 2015. Demotix/indiPHOTOpress. All rights reserved.

The following is the abridged version of the longer article, The Brussels diktat: and what followed, originally published on July 20 here.

Syriza's dilemma, and ours

Do the “agreements” reached on July 13 mark the end of an era? Yes, but certainly not in the sense suggested by the press release of the “summit”. They are, in fact, fundamentally impracticable – but they will be enforced as violently and with a much higher potential for disunity than what has preceded them during the last 5 years. The word “diktat” was used and this dramatization is based indeed on substantial facts.

Though the suggestions propounded by Tsipras in Brussels were clearly at odds with the results of the referendum, they nonetheless constituted a project of his own accord through which he hoped to develop a politics in the interest of his people. His “negotiating partners” have put all efforts into ruining this venture. The outcome is an anti-plan with no economic rationality whatsoever, resembling a blood-letting and dissection of the national economy.

Worse yet: these measures of “superintendence” establish a de facto protectorate within the EU. Greece is no longer sovereign: not, though, in the sense of a shared sovereignty which the development of a European federalism would imply, but in the sense of a subjection to the will of a Master. Who, then, is the Master in question? Habermas has spoken of a postdemokratischer Exekutiv-föderalismus when characterizing the regime that now governs Europe. But the “executive” referred to remains largely an occult one. The Commission relinquished power to the Eurogroup which does not arise from a treaty and does not obey any explicit laws. Its president merely serves as a spokesperson of the most powerful state.

Are we to conclude that the new regime is nothing more than the mask of German imperialism? Things are less simple. The hegemony is certainly real, but it meets several objections, such as those of the ECB. By running dry the emergency funds, the ECB has played a major role in bringing Athens to its knees. But this does not mean that Berlin and Frankfurt are consistently in tune. Both share different interests and ideologies. It is this durable division within the European “executive” which makes up its material constitution.

So do the divergences between the French and the German government. It is crucial to understand what separates them, without taking at face value their justifications. With regard to Germany, the political reasons for its “intransigence” have always been more fundamental than economic reasons. The two paradigms of the Bundesfinanzministerium – the “provisional” exit of Greece from the Eurozone or the expropriation of national resources – in fact had exactly the same aim, which was (and remains) the demise of Syriza.

France on the other hand was convinced that the only way to push through increased austerity measures in Greece was by making Syriza endorse them. After all, Hollande is himself rather experienced in reversing electoral promises. But what France is most concerned about, as Varoufakis has pointed out, is to resist the way Germany is using the Greek situation to “discipline France”. We may say that, on that fateful night, Hollande was “victorious” in keeping Greece in the Euro but “lost” on the conditions. Since the conditions will determine the further outcome, it is fairly possible that his victory won’t lead him very far.

It is manifest that the plotting and scheming at the expense of the Greeks has not resolved any of the issues at the heart of the crisis. Rather, they have worsened them. The accumulated European debt – public but especially private – remains out of control. Trying to fix it in Greece will only increase it and keep up the insecurity of the currency union. And each resolution of this problem points at an even more worrying issue for the European future: the increase of inequalities and their transformation in relation to domination. A regional gap has emerged inside a “Union” whose project used to be associated with the overcoming of secular antagonisms by means of prosperity and reciprocity between peoples.   

The gravity of the democratic issue and the lack of legitimacy that it evokes was particularly underlined on July 13. The most serious argument put forward against the Greek pleas consisted in repeating that “the will of one people” cannot outweigh the will of the other peoples. There is no doubt about this, but this argument only makes sense if an open debate reaching out to all European citizens takes place. The technostructure and the political class of various European countries don’t even want this to be mentioned. 

The shift of power towards supranational institutions and obscure organs leads to ever growing popular resentment and anger. In return, a worrisome device has been implemented by the governments and the ruling parties: the taxpayers of all countries are being told that they are incessantly “paying for the Greeks” out of their own pockets. This propaganda engenders a powerful populism “of the center” which nurtures xenophobic passions throughout the continent. The far-right will reap the fruits.

In this situation Syriza faces a terrible dilemma. The Memorandum has gone through the Vouli because the former government parties have voted in its favour, but with a strong opposing minority counting about thirty Syriza members. Taking on his responsibilities, the Prime Minister has declared that he did not believe in the virtues of the plan from Brussels, but that it was necessary to accept it in order to avoid a “disaster”. Strikes and protests have already taken place. The crisis is open, and it will abide.

Ironically, Tsipras’ main “external” support now comes from the IMF. The publication of its analysis about the unbearableness of the Greek debt and its call to relieve it could mark the beginning of a creeping renegotiation. But Schäuble immediately used it as an argument to reboot considerations of a “temporary Grexit”, which threatens the very membership of Greece to the EU.

The internal situation is most decisive. For years Greek society has been striving to resist impoverishment and despair by developing extraordinary solidarities. But it is now exhausted, divided along lines which could shift brutally. Much will depend on whether the actions of government will be judged as treason or resistance. It is of capital importance that Tsipras has kept to telling the truth. But he had to remodel his government and announce new elections at high risk.

Will Syriza be able to hold out in spite of being subjected to such tensions? The death blow comes from outside but “Marxist” leftists from inside Syriza too have always seen an opportunity in Grexit. It seems to us that, if it is a legitimate attitude, the objection should not lead to playing the enemy’s game by pretending to have a monopoly on the powerful “no” of July 5 which constitutes the whole strength of the movement. Either unity holds and the dialectics of implementation and resistance can be applied. Or it fails, thereby killing the hope that Syriza instilled in Greece, in Europe and all over the world.

Just one concluding remark. Tsipras has said it in clear terms: the solution we had to opt for was not the best one, it was only the less disastrous one for Greece and for Europe. This commitment to the service of our common interest entails big responsibilities for us all. So far, as must be admitted, our collective support has not been up to the needs. But the “long march” for a solidary and democratic Europe has not come to an end on July 13, 2015. It is sustaining itself in Greece, while other movements filled with hope are following its example on the continent. In unity will reside our strength.

Thanks go to Moh Hamdi for preparing this translation for openDemocracy from the French.

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