Stathis Kouvelakis, eden izmed vodilnih članov grške Leve Platforme, v intervjuju za Jacobin pojasnjuje ozadje taktike in odločitev Syrizine vlade v zadnjih petih mesecih ter vse skupaj izvede na eno besedo: impotentnost.
One thing that I didn’t understand about the process even from a public relations perspective is that he called a referendum over a series of proposed measures that he then called on people to reject and yet in the run-up to the referendum, he made a move towards the creditors that seemed to be even worse in some aspects than the measures that he was calling on people to reject.
That all gave the impression of complete amateurism and chaos.
I’ve tried to reconstitute the intentions of Tsipras essentially to answer your question about whether he thought he was going to lose the referendum and to try to clarify the meaning the referendum had for him. But what is absolutely clear is that it unleashed forces that went far beyond those intentions. Tsipras and the government were clearly overtaken by the momentum that was created by the referendum.
They tried therefore by all means to put the devil back into the box. The way Tsipras dealt with pressure from Dragasakis — and why that Wednesday was so crucial — was that he accepted their line and sent that infamous letter to the Eurogroup and before that the letter asking for a new loan. This opened up the path for what was to come the week after the referendum.
But, on the other hand, in order to justify the fact that he could not without being totally ridiculed withdraw the referendum, he had to give some rationale for the initiative. He has to talk about fighting the austerity measures included in the Juncker package, about the blackmailing of the troika and the ultimatum he had been subjected to. And, of course, the dynamic that was developing from below at that moment seized that opportunity, took him at his word, and went ahead and to wage the battle against the troika.
This is a prime example of an initiative that was taken from above, as the result of internal contradictions, but ended up liberating forces that went far beyond a leader’s intentions. This is very important, because it also has to be understood that one of the biggest difficulties that Tsipras has to face now after the surrender of yesterday’s agreement is the very dubious political legitimacy of this move after the referendum.
We have to understand that it is a complete illusion to pretend that the referendum didn’t happen. It did happen, and it’s clear to both international public opinion and Greek society that Tsipras is betraying a popular mandate.
So on the big debate — is Tsipras some sort of Machiavellian super-tactical genius or some type of wild gambler overtaken by events, you’re definitely in the second camp?
Well, I’m definitely in the second camp provided that we clarify the following point: actually Tsipras and the leadership has been following very consistently the same line from the start. They thought that by combining a “realistic” approach in the negotiations and a certain rhetorical firmness, they would get concessions from the Europeans.
They were however increasingly trapped by that line, and when they realized that they were trapped, they had no alternative strategy. They consistently refused any other strategy, and they also made it practically impossible for another approach to be implemented when there was still time for that.
Now, in the interview he gave a couple of days ago to the New Statesman, Varoufakis says that a small team of people around him worked during the week leading to the referendum on an alternative plan including state control of the banks, issuing of IOUs and disconnection of the Greek central bank from the Frankfurt ECB, so on a sort of gradual exit. But that clearly came too late and was rejected by nearly all the rest of the economic team of the cabinet, by which he essentially means Dragasakis. And Tsipras, of course, validated that decision.
So we have to stress the continuity of the line of Tsipras. This is also the reason I think the word “betrayal” is inappropriate if we are to understand what is happening. Of course, objectively we can say that there has been a betrayal of the popular mandate, that people very legitimately feel they have been betrayed.
However, the notion of betrayal usually means that at some moment you make a conscious decision of reneging on your own commitments. What I think actually happened was that Tsipras honestly believed that he could get a positive outcome by putting forward an approach centered on negotiations and displaying good will, and this also why he constantly said he had no alternative plan.
He thought that by appearing as a loyal “European,” deprived of any “hidden agenda,” he would get some kind of reward. On the other side, he showed for some months a capacity to resist to the escalating pressure and made some unpredictable moves such as the referendum or travelling to Moscow.
He thought this was the right mix to approach the issue, and what happens is that when you consistently follow this line you are led to a position in which you are left only with bad choices.
And the roots of that strategy: to what extent is it ideological blindness and to what extent is it pure ignorance? What is confusing to many is that you have a government composed of a large number of intellectuals, people who spent their whole lives studying contemporary capitalist political economy, both in the abstract and the concrete, people who are political activists.
How can one explain what seems to be naïveté about their political opponents? Is it thoroughly rooted ideology or was it just a lack of experience with “high politics”?
I think we have to distinguish two elements within the government. The first is the rightist wing of the government led by two of the main economists, essentially Dragasakis but also Giorgos Stathakis. And then the core leadership, Tsipras and the people around him.
The first group had a consistent line from the outset — there was absolutely no naïveté on their part. They knew very well that the Europeans would never accept a break with the memorandum.
This is why Dragasakis from the outset did everything he could not to change the logic of the overall approach. He clearly sabotaged all the attempts for Syriza to have a proper economic program, even one within the framework that had been approved by the majority of the party. He thought that the only thing you could get was an improved version of the memorandum framework. He wanted his hands completely free to negotiate the deal with the Europeans, without himself appearing too much at the stage, he succeeded in controlling the negotiation team, especially once Varoufakis had been sidelined.
In summer 2013, he gave a very interesting interview that created a lot of buzz at the time. What he was proposing was not even a softer version of Syriza’s program, but in reality a different program that was a slight improvement of the existing agreement that New Democracy signed.
And then you have the other approach, that of Tsipras, which was indeed rooted in the ideology of left-Europeanism. I think the best illustration of that is Euclid Tsakalotos, a person who considers himself a staunch Marxist, someone who comes from the Eurocommunist tradition, we were in the same organization for years. The most typical statement from him which captures both his ideology and the outlook given to the government by the presence of all those academics is what he said in an interview to the French website Mediapart in April.
When asked what had struck him most since he was in government, he replied by saying that he was an academic, his job was to teach economics at a university, so when he went to Brussels he had prepared himself very seriously, he had prepared a whole set of arguments and was expecting exactly elaborated counter-arguments to be presented. But, instead of that, he just had to face people who were endlessly reciting rules and procedures and so on.
Tsakalotos said he was very disappointed by the low level of the discussion. In the interview to the New Statesman, Varoufakis says very similar things about his own experience, although his style is clearly more confrontational than Tsakalotos’s.
From this it is quite clear that these people were expecting the confrontation with the EU to happen along the lines of an academic conference when you go with a nice paper and you expect a kind of nice counter-paper to be presented.
I think this is telling about what the Left is about today. The Left is filled with lots of people who are well-meaning, but who are totally impotent on the field of real politics. But it’s also telling about the kind of mental devastation wrought by the almost religious belief in Europeanism. This meant that, until the very end, those people believed that they could get something from the troika, they thought that between “partners” they would find some sort of compromise, that they shared some core values like respect for the democratic mandate, or the possibility of a rational discussion based on economic arguments.
The whole approach of Varoufakis’s more confrontational stance amounted actually to the same thing, but wrapped in the language of game theory. What he was saying was that we have to play the game until the very, very, very end and then they would retreat, because supposedly the damage that they would endure had they not retreated was too great for them to accept.
But what actually happened was akin to a fight between two people, where one person risks the pain and damage of losing a toe and the other their two legs.
So it is true that there was a lack of elementary realism and that this was directly connected with the major problem that the Left has to face today — namely, our own impotence.
Vir: Sebastian Budgen, Jacobin