THE BLOG

In Defence of Alexis Tsipras and Syriza

12/07/2015 17:35 BST | Updated 12/07/2016 10:59 BST

The howls of condemnation from the international Left that have met the decision of Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his government to bow to the demands of the Troika and put forward an austerity package of reforms in order to release a further tranche of emergency bailout funds from the European Central Bank have been completely misplaced. Worse, they reflect an under-appreciation of the gravity of crisis that has engulfed Greece and is worsening by the day.

Events in Greece have progressed from an economic and political crisis into a full blown humanitarian crisis, measured in a growing shortage of medicines and food; shortages that were even starting to be felt by tourists. The imposition of capital controls had stopped payments by Greek businesses overseas to suppliers, which if allowed to continue would have meant the slow but steady asphyixiation of the economy and, with it, Greek society. The consequences of this process beyond a certain point would have inevitably been ugly, leading to the country's complete social breakdown and fragmentation.

Not since the Second World War has a nation in Western Europe suffered the kind of privation that Greece has suffered these past five months, ever since the election of Syriza on a clear anti-austerity mandate. The prolonged negotiations that have ensued, as Tsipras and his team have battled against an economic and political juggernaut embodied in the Troika, have succeeded in exposing the true character of the EU and its institutions. The mask of democracy has been ripped off to reveal the brutal and callous tyranny of neoliberalism, under whose crushing weight nothing is sacred - neither democracy, national sovereignty, or in the end even humanity.

Without an alternative source of investment and credit, Greece cannot survive. Clearly, the premise behind the single currency has been blown out of the water by this crisis, proving a ball and chain for peripheral economies such as the Greek economy, reducing them to the status of slaves of global economic forces and institutions rather than independent entities operating according to the democratic mandate of their own citizens.

As such, Grexit is not a viable option. As the popular former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, writes in the Guardian, "Grexit would be the equivalent of announcing a large devaluation more than 18 months in advance: a recipe for liquidating all Greek capital stock and transferring it abroad by any means available."

Furthermore, it is disputatious whether the package of reforms being proposed by the Greek Government, reforms that have received the near-unanimous backing of the country's parliament, amounts to the wholesale 'capituiation' and 'surrender' that has been alleged. Writing on his blog in response to the climbdown, the estimable Paul Mason points out that the measures proposed by the Greek Government are "still redistributive on balance. Syriza can still sell this as a very different programme from those previously designed by the conservative led coalition. 29% corporation tax is one example."

Mason also reminds us that "The Greek government has no mandate to leave the Euro, as the 61% vote No last Sunday was clearly won as a "stay in and fight" mandate."

Demanding of a government that it continue fighting a battle it clearly cannot win bespeaks astounding arrogance; while expecting it continue to struggle while its people suffer inordinate privation and hardship in the process is irresponsible and reckless. The failure, if it can be described as failure, of Syriza describes the failure of the European left to build an anti-austerity movement of sufficient size and strength to seriously challenge the status quo. That such a movement is absent in Germany is especially significant for obvious reasons.

This is not a game. The reality is that it is easy for people outwith Greece to pronounce judgment on a beleagured government's decision to concede defeat in the face of the overwhelming forces arrayed against it. Taking radical positions knowing we will never have to live with the consequences of them can be described as many things, but solidarity is not one of them.

Angela Merkel has left no doubt that her priority lies in serving the interests of German banks rather than a European Union that is in danger of unravelling on the back of the Greek crisis. With an EU referendum beckoning in the UK next year, how many will have watched this crisis unfold and now be minded to vote No in that referendum? I count myself as one of them.

The enemy is not Alexis Tsipras or Syriza. The enemy for those interested in democracy, justice, and an economy that serves the needs of ordinary people rather than one that rolls over their lives and communities, is neoliberalism and those who enforce its writ.