The Greek Apocalypse: Versailles or Brest-Litovsk?

The Greek Apocalypse: Versailles or Brest-Litovsk?
The Greek Apocalypse: Versailles or Brest-Litovsk?
The Greek Apocalypse: Versailles or Brest-Litovsk?

When my essay on Greece after the referendum “The Courage of Hopelessness” was republished by In These Times, its title was changed to “How Alexis Tsipras and Syriza Outmaneuvered Angela Merkel and the Eurocrats.” The substance of what I wrote however, was far less optimistic. Yet I have been attacked by many on the Left because I refuse to think of Tsipras’s acceptance of the EU terms as a simple defeat, because I refuse to condemn Tsipras’s “treason.”

The reversal of the “No” of referendum to the “Yes” to Brussels was a devastating shock, a shattering, painful catastrophe. More precisely, it was an apocalypse in both senses of the term: the usual one (catastrophe) and the original, literal one (disclosure, revelation)—the basic antagonism, the deadlock, of the situation was clearly disclosed. But many leftist commentators (Jürgen Habermas included) got it wrong when they read the conflict between the EU and Greece as the conflict between technocracy and politics. The EU treatment of Greece is not technocracy but politics at its purest, a politics that even runs against economic interests. After all, the IMF, a true representative of cold economic rationality, declared the bailout plan unworkable. If anything, it was Greece that stood for economic rationality and the EU that embodied politico-ideological passion. After the Greek banks and stock exchange reopened, there was a tremendous flight of capital and fall of stock prices. This was not primarily a sign of distrust of the Syriza government, but rather of the distrust of the imposed EU measures—a clear brutal message that—as we put it in today’s animistic terms—capital (as represented by governing bodies like the IMF) itself does not believe the EU bailout plan will work. (Of course, but banking industry loves the bailout. Most of the money given to Greece goes to the Western private banks, which means that Germany and other EU superpowers are spending taxpayers’ money to save their own banks, which made the mistake of giving bad loans. Not to mention the fact that Germany profited tremendously from the escape of the Greek capital from Greece to Germany.)

When former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis justified his vote against the measures imposed by Brussels, he compared the deal to the Versailles Treaty, an unjust international agreement that harbored a new war. Although his parallel is accurate, I prefer to compare the EU measures to the Brest-Litovsk treaty between Soviet Russia and Germany at the beginning of 1918, in which, to the consternation of many of its partisans, the Bolshevik government ceded to Germany’s outrageous demands. It’s true, Soviet Russia retreated, but this gave them a breathing space to fortify their power and wait. The same goes for Greece today: We are not at the end. The Greek retreat is not the last word for the simple reason that the crisis will hit again, in a couple of years if not sooner, and not only in Greece. The task of the Syriza government is to get ready for that moment, to patiently occupy positions and plan options. Holding onto political power in these impossible conditions nonetheless provides a minimal space to prepare the ground for future action and for political education.

Therein resides the paradox of the situation: Although the bailout plan will not work, one should not lose one’s nerve and exit the situation, but rather follow it until the next explosion. Why? Because Greece was obviously not prepared for the brutal pressure from the EU—and next time, it must be. Until now, the Syriza government has operated without really controlling the state apparatus, with its 2 million employees. The police and judiciary mostly belong to the political Right, and the government administration is part and parcel of the corrupted clientelist machine. It is precisely this vast state machinery that the Syriza government will have to rely on in the case of the immense work required for a Grexit, or in the even more challenging case of regaining monetary autonomy while remaining within the Eurozone. (This was the policy advocated by Varoufakis: to regain monetary autonomy by supplanting Euro with a parallel currency.)

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on August 24th, 2015. (full text).]