Monthly Archives: August 2015

Greek crisis round up – 26 August 2015

This update focuses on the Greek snap elections following PM Tsipras’ resignation, which are likely to be held on 20th September.

As a summary of some of the agenda items of the newly formed Popular Unity – the Greek party created by Syriza anti-bailout rebels – I recommend an interesting media profile published today on their leader, Panagiotis Lafazanis. Popular Unity’s electoral programme advocates Grexit, partial cancellation of debt, restoration of national sovereignty via some form of socialist economy, and disengagement from NATO and Euro-Atlantic alliances – with an eye towards Russia.

In programmatic terms, the differences with the well established Greek Communist Party (KKE) are minimal, and many of Popular Unity cadres were formerly in the KKE, including Lafazanis. The KKE has a solid grassroots organisation, including a workers’ association (PAME) and a youth wing (KNE). Popular Unity has to pretty much improvise along the way with elections just around the corner.

Much will depend on mounting street sentiment against the bailout – or lack thereof. Popular Unity can capitalise on its vocal opposition to the bailout at the centre of the mainstream debate while its leaders were still within Syriza. Whatever analysts and politicians say, it will be very difficult to make any informed guess based on polls, as the elections have been called so quickly and new parties are appearing overnight. The controversial speaker of parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou has also announced a new party, which will possibly run as an ally of Popular Unity.

While most analysts, backed by early polls, bet on Tsipras’ victory (but without an overall majority in parliament), the signals from Syriza ranks are not positive. Today 53 members of the party central committee resigned – these were largely part of Left Platform, the faction that is behind Popular Unity. 17 members had already resigned previously in disagreement with Syriza’s acceptance of the bailout terms, which means 70 out of 201 members have left the central committee. Reports on the ground indicate many local cadres are leaving Syriza. The central committee secretary general Koronakis also resigned on Monday. He is believed to have been close to Tsipras, his resignation has been perceived as a major blow to the majority line.

Beyond the struggle for consensus on the anti-bailout left front, there are other trends that will be important to monitor. One is the contest between the new reincarnation of Syriza, moving rapidly towards the centre, and other pro-bailout parties – early polls indicate New Democracy trailing closely behind Syriza, but the performance of To Potami and Pasok will also be an important indicator of consensus for working within the eurozone institutional framework. Another important factor will be how well the neo-nazis of Golden Dawn will do – will there be a rise in their share of the votes given the failure of Syriza’s populist line and the fragmentation on the left? Will Golden Dawn capture some of the discontent with the capitulation to the creditors, compounded by economic crisis and the panic caused by the refugee crisis?

There is also the possibility of low turnout as a manifestation of increasing disaffection with the democratic process. After all, many people might feel that Syriza’s electoral victory in January on a clear anti-austerity ticket, and the overwhelming opposition to the bailout in July’s referendum, have not led to any positive outcome in this direction.

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Negative growth in 2nd quarter, tough times ahead for South Africa

The South African economy shrank by 1.3% in the second quarter of this year, with major contractions in mining and agriculture. Tough times ahead for the country, as the slowing down of China and general lack of recovery in Northern markets are not going to be reverted any soon.

This will further exacerbate the basic contradiction behind South Africa’s economic system. Most growth in recent years has come from investment in the rest of Africa, that remains in the hands of few – with a dominant position of white capital – and doesn’t trickle down to the rest of South Africans. Meanwhile restructuring and decline at home means even less jobs in the mining sector and elsewhere.

Considering the bottleneck many graduates are finding themselves in, these pressures will not only be on the poorest, but also on all those who had high expectations that university education would lift them out of poverty towards a better and fairer future.

It is in this context that the rising social movement towards transformation – but also the worrying rise of xenophobia across lower and middle classes – should be understood. South Africa is in for more social unrest, worsening living conditions and economic and political instability if unequal economic and social structures are not addressed head on.

Greece to roll out Guaranteed Minimum Income

Something that has been kept under the radar in the latest debates around the Greek bailout deal is the introduction of a national Guaranteed Minimum Income – this would be the first universal means-tested grant that covers all Greeks below a certain level of income and asset ownership, regardless of employment status, job contract type, professional category, gender or age.

Despite the lack of substantial public debate in Greece around this, the measure is not without controversies. Is it just another neoliberal stunt to dismantle the welfare state and introduce a bottom floor well below decent living standards? Is it a necessary measure to buffer the worst of the crisis? Could it lead in the future to a universal basic income set well above poverty levels?

Check out my piece published on the Basic Income Earth Network website today, reporting on these issues.

A new left project against the bailout in Greece: if not now, when?

A piece published today by Stathis Kouvelakis, one of the most vocal Syriza’s dissenters and a leading figure of Left Platform, spurs some reflections in the aftermath of Syriza’s central committee meeting last week which saw Tsipras emerge victorious – at least for now. It should be noted that the article is based on a speech that was given a few days before the central committee meeting.

Kouvelakis clearly articulates the failures of Syriza’s ‘majority’ line, highlighting the main factors that led to the capitulation – among them, a rather distressing accommodation of established Greek media and banking powers by Syriza-Anel government, which casts further doubt on Tsipras’ ability of turning this debacle into anything useful for Greeks in the following months.

The final part of the piece focuses on what’s next, with Kouvelakis’ call for a new political movement building on the Oxi mobilisation. This would be a progressive alternative and a pan-European alliance that moves beyond the eurozone and ‘left-Europeanism’ as he calls it. The movement would work from its very inception against the bailout and against the continuation of troika’s rule.

Now, Kouvelakis develops some pretty good points here showing a complexity of reasoning and arguments that is welcome and useful. But we still need to know in practice how we make sense of last week’s Left Platform stance in the central committee. Why was Tsipras’ call for a party conference after the bailout talks accepted? Where was the internal majority often invoked by Left Platform ready to question the bailout from this very moment? Is Left Platform serious about overturning this bailout or will it all just end up in another collective internal reflection without any practical action to resist the new agreement?

If Syriza dissenters don’t come up with a practical plan in the short-term to show that they are serious about this alternative agenda, the new project Kouvelakis advocates will rapidly collapse – for the very reasons Kouvelakis clearly points out when analysing the failure of Tsipras’ line. Credibility is a major issue here. If Left Platform does not move beyond statements and announcements and towards tangible action, the left alternative to Tsipras will dissolve just as quickly. Certainly, waiting for the bailout talks to be over to discuss what’s gone wrong within Syriza is not a credible answer, as members of Left Platform have already highlighted.