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  • A pedestrian walks through empty streets by a mural in Athens, Greece July 12, 2015.

    A pedestrian walks through empty streets by a mural in Athens, Greece July 12, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 July 2015
The masters of Europe are defending their agenda of redistributing wealth and power upward.

What went wrong?

One prevalent agreement is that there was insufficient effort to prepare for exit if aims were not met by negotiations. Some add that there was an ignorant belief that reason could play a role in the negotiations.

Taking the second claim first. The problem wasn't that the masters of Europe were irrational when they dismissed without even bothering to check their consistency, the carefully and soundly argued Greek positions.

No. The problem was the European side was equally rational, careful, and thoughtful as the Greek side, but with a completely different agenda.

The Greeks wanted to eliminate chaos and attain stability, but in a way that would improve the lot of those who have suffered most. The masters of Europe also wanted to reduce chaos and attain stability, but only while defending their agenda of redistributing wealth and power upward.

The masters of Europe didn't give a damn about the Greeks who had suffered most, but cared only about those Europeans (and Greeks) who had benefitted and were seeking more benefits, and certainly no loss. So the Greek side's logic, the tighter and more coherent it was, was the worst nightmare for the also quite logical, but vile, masters of Europe.

That means the negotiation was never about the possibility of speaking truth to power and power in turn listening and caring a whit. The negotiation was always about confronting power with possible loss and power deciding we don't want that loss so we will change our position.

But what loss could be threatened?

Danger for international markets of dissolution of the Euro zone, on the one hand, and, even more threatening, an upsurge of Syriza like projects, moving even further left, spreading over Europe and beyond. Only fear of these two possibilities could have caused the masters of Europe to reduce austerity, or even end it, in an effort to avoid more dreaded results. Of course it was also this fear of a good anti-austerity example that motivated them to be as punitive and destructive as possible in humiliating and subjugating Syriza.

What about the second Greek error: insufficient effort to prepare to exit? Most obviously there were two possible avenues of preparation. The first was domestic - prepare the Greek population's understanding of the full situation and its possibilities and prepare organizational and institutional means to handle the costs of exit in ways limiting damage and leading toward a more positive future.

When the negotiations began, Varoufakis should have handled them, and every other bit of government energy going to giving him a credible threat to pose. This would have entailed preparing a program of steps including nationalization, bank controls, food preparedness, medical clinics, new distribution centers, re-training military units for public service, opening buildings and schools for broader use, training in grassroots survival and organizing skills, and so on - plus creating a network of grassroots popular organizations able to offset harm that would be pushed on Greece not just by exit, but even more so by European financial retributions after exit, plus educating the public for what was to come.

Keep in mind, a lot of this this was underway five months ago by grass roots initiatives. And, additionally, when Syriza was elected the public wanted to stay in the Eurozone - and when the climax came, the same was still true. For critics to say Syriza abiding the will of the public meant it should exit the Euro just flies in the face of public reality. However, for critics to point out that the public reality to have been changed by consciousness raising and organizing, as well as generating institutional preparedness, makes good sense. More important, the exact same sentiment applies now, as earlier.  

The second avenue for action was outside Greece. That is, Greece had one other potential ace in the negotiations, the fear of the spread of the resistance model. So that fear should have been made more real by a second focus for Greek action. Not only prepare to battle in Greece by developing program, institutional networks, and popular understanding, but prepare to battle outside Greece as well, by sending emissaries, including Tsipris, all over Europe with the message of resisting austerity.

Would all this have given Greek negotiators a credible threat large enough for them to win major concessions? We don't know. But perhaps even more important, if it hadn't, then the way would have been paved for more struggle rather than for what may now occur, depression and dissolution, which was exactly the aim of the masters of Europe.

Indeed, what is needed now is not for Syriza to meekly fulfill the desires of the masters, not for Syriza to exit the government, or for Greece to become a doormat begging crumbs, or for everyone to start casting aspersions on the motives of everyone else on the road to depression and dissolution. What is needed is, instead, to revert to five months ago, but prioritizing preparing for new crises by all the steps mentioned above, and more.

The underlying mistake of Syriza was not that some leaders believed the masters of Europe would listen to reason so they opted to give almost all their energies to that task, much less the hard to fathom belief that by convincing the Europeans that exit was off the table for Syriza, Syriza's prospects for a desirable negotiation would be enhanced - which really was quite ignorant, honestly. No, the real problem was that within Syriza there was little if any comprehension that there was not one right way to proceed which should sublimate all others.

Syriza had in it, at the outset of its winning office, many members, even organized into a faction, who wanted to pursue a different path forward. Tsipris was undeniably right that the left's path did not yet have even the support of the majority of Syriza's supporters, much less the majority of the population. Regrettably, however, this correct observation wrongly led not only to the left platform's defeat as a primary program, but to its virtual elimination as a continuing path to explore and experiment with. This was the error.

Tsipris's reading of the population at the time of his election appears to have been quite valid and accurate. His and others false hopes for the negotiations were predictably wrong, but not utterly idiotic - and in any event, without them Syriza would never have won office. If we want to ask how things could have come out differently we should not say, well, if everyone had had different views, it would all have come out differently. That is true, but not in the real world. We should ask, instead, even with the differences in views that existed, how could things have ended differently?

And I think there is an answer. Suppose Syriza's attitude had been that the proper way to deal with a large minority with a different perspective than the majority was to respect it, and to realize that the majority view could be wrong, or incomplete, or time bound, and to therefore realize that it would be wise to explore and even to a considerable degree implement the alternative minority approach at the same time as pursuing the majority one. To do so would be desirable insurance against the majority view being or becoming inadequate, and also a good investment, so to speak, against division and dissolution. One could imagine, by way of learning a lesson, such an approach to respecting and exploring responsible dissent being built into the culture and consciousness, and even the organizational structures of left political parties and projects.

The contrary idea that contending viewpoints should compete to decide on one favored approach that should then be pursued as the one right way, with the defeated approach left dormant, is almost universally enshrined in left organization and action. And I would say, writ large, it was very likely the main culprit in the Greek tragedy.

The Greek events have unmasked the European Union and its masters for all to see. Where the masters of Europe violated democracy, even scoffed at it as less than worthless, the Greeks abided it, albeit being too timid about trying to change people’s views. Nothing stops Syriza from re-embarking on struggle, this time with a population which is far more conscious than five months ago, and with lessons learned, itself, as well.

The masters of Europe are waging class war using threats, fear, and draconian contracts and financial tools of coercion. Syriza needs to wage class war, too, using desire, the power of an aroused and informed population both at home and abroad, and the capacity of new popular institutions and programs designed to withstand, repel, and then reverse austere predations.


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