Durand, Keucheyan and Trouvé: The rupture comes now
A man reads newspaper headlines in the center of Athens this morning. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images
By Cédric Durand, Razmig Keucheyan and Aurélie Trouvé
The epic face-off between Syriza and the Troika has now been going on for some five months. At the end of this initial phase of their clash, rich in twists and turns, the Greek side has incontestably won the first round. Although this is a hugely uneven contest, David is still holding out against Goliath. Ducking and diving, nimbly shifting back and forth, with partial retreats and then counter-attacks, Tsipras’s team’s tactical inventiveness can only command our admiration. It has shown its finesse in playing on all the technico-political subtleties in order to prolong and to publicise as much as possible the test of strength that today pits it against the institutions. Thus it has stopped the financial noose from choking the Old Continent’s first governmental alternative to neoliberalism.
Continuing to proceed along this tightrope, the Greek government has succeeded in preserving the trappings of normality in serving its financial obligations, but without renouncing the spirit of the programme that brought it to power: it has maintained its in-principle attachment to the European project at the same time as wielding its blade to cut through the noose of austerity. Taking things to the limit like this has allowed it to build up mounting popular support. And that is itself a second victory. Far from the Syriza government’s combative attitude asphyxiating it on the political plane, this has transformed its clash with the institutions into domestic political fuel, allowing it to strengthen its base of support. Today the opinion polls give the radical Left a comfortable advantage over its conservative rivals (New Democracy) and a Socialist Party (PASOK) that has now been reduced to a merely residual presence.
Syriza’s third victory is the failure of its opponents. Despite their stubbornness, the creditors—with Merkel, Hollande and Lagarde in the lead—have not succeeded in making Syriza an example of There Is No Alternative. The election results in Spain and Italy are in accordance with the surveys showing the rise of forces hostile to the policies coordinated by Brussels. They signal the exhaustion of the "grand coalition" logic that presides over the austerity consensus, which is applied with equal enthusiasm by a Manuel Valls, a Matteo Renzi or a Manuel Rajoy. Faced with this disaggregation of the extreme centre—which first of all affects social-democratic currents—the idea that other policies are possible is now making headway in Europeans’ consciousness. And at the moment, thanks to Syriza, it is the radical Left—and not the far Right—that holds the terrain as the effective alternative.
But nothing would be more dangerous than to be blinded by the light of this strong start. Evasion tactics, however cunning they may be, are no substitute for the strategic decisions that must now be made. The Greek side has already agreed to substantial concessions (as compared to its programme) in order to appease the creditors, including accepting the principle of mass privatisations (€3.2bn in 2015-16, and €15bn by 2022); a gradual increase in the retirement age; and primary surplus goals close to those demanded by the Troika (0.6% in 2015; 3.5% in 2018). The red lines that Tsipras had himself drawn have now been crossed, and as Yanis Varoufakis has explained, the Greek government’s goal has now been reduced to trying to obtain a restructuring of the debt in exchange for accepting the hated structural reforms. There is good reason to characterise its recent offer as reneging on Syriza’s promises… and yet, for their part, the creditors have only trimmed their unrealistic projections for the primary surplus around the edges, while reasserting their demand for further reductions in a welfare state that has already been bled dry, and for the liberalisation of employment law to be taken to its extreme.
The neoliberal autism of the EU has now been demonstrated as a political fact. If the perilous prospect of Greece leaving the Eurozone does indeed come to pass, the blame for that will lie with the stubbornness of the creditors, and in particular France and Germany. For the Syriza government to retreat any further would deprive it of any political consistency, and seriously weaken the Left alternative to neoliberalism across Europe. Only a moratorium on settling the debt, together with the establishment of capital controls, could now allow it to take back the initiative.
If Greece—perhaps followed by Spain, if Podemos takes power after November’s parliamentary elections—breaks with austerity policies, then France will be faced with the following alternative: either to persevere along its mistaken path, with the unemployment rate continuing—tragically—to soar; or else to join these countries of the South in a project for the progressive and democratic refoundation of Europe. In truth, this decision will not be made so much by the powers-that-be as by the social and trade union movements. Taking to the streets on 20 June, they will have the chance to demonstrate their solidarity with the route chosen by the Greek people.