In extraordinary circumstances, the Greek parliament has passed its third and most savage agreement with the country’s creditors. It secured an €86 billion loan, which will recapitalise Greece’s banks and repay existing loans to the same institutions advancing the loan. The Greek people will see none of it but will pay for all of it.
The Eurogroup of finance ministers approved the loan on 15 August, hours after the Greek parliamentary vote. In a press release, it praised the Syriza government for its “swift” and “determined” action. (Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras had recalled parliament at the height of the summer break.)
The agreement is a mark of shame on every Syriza MP who voted for it – they stood in the January elections on the basis that they represented a break with the pro-austerity parties. Now they implement austerity with the votes of the discredited New Democracy and Pasok and their ally To Potami. They crossed the ultimate red line.
Parliamentary speaker Zoi Konstantopoulou fought to delay the vote as long as possible. Undaunted by the vicious and misogynist campaign against her in the media, and now openly coming from Syriza parliamentary representatives, she understands that while the final outcome was never in dispute, every obstacle to attaining it matters.
When the roll call of parliamentary representatives was taken, 32 Syriza MPs voted no and another 11 abstained. It is the biggest revolt of the three parliamentary votes taken since Tsipras secured the authority to negotiate a deal, and the first time Tsipras secured fewer than 120 votes from the governing coalition, which is the threshold to avoid a confidence motion.
The 32 who voted no included the 28 Left Platform MPs, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, former deputy finance minister Nadia Valavani, Zoi Konstantopoulou and Rachel Makri. The abstentions came from the 53 group, which is the left of the party majority.
Members of the 53 on the Syriza Central Committee, along with the Left Platform, had signed a statement of opposition to the memorandum on 15 July but then supported Tsipras’ proposal to delay holding a party congress until the final vote had been taken on the memorandum. This gave him carte blanche to continue negotiations with the lenders unimpeded by the democratic will of the party.
Their shifting position is a sign that there are forces within Syriza that the left must fight to win over to total opposition to the memorandum.
Tsipras is expected to call for a vote of confidence on 20 August. He wants to test the MPs who voted against austerity – will they give confidence to the government of the left or will they be responsible for its downfall and the triggering of fresh elections?
In reality, the government of the left fell on 15 July – when the majority voted to accept the first round of measures that the creditors demanded to secure the bailout. The left must now take the same attitude to Syriza as it took to the two previous governments that imposed austerity.
However the appeal to prop up the government is alluring for those whose aim is to secure power to people with similar ideological proclivities to their own. It was this, and the call for unity, that held sway with the majority blocking the left from its attempt to convoke a party congress prior to the final parliamentary vote.
Instead, the conference will take place in September, which, as Left Platform leader Panagiotis Lafazanis said in a statement published on the website Iskra, “makes no sense, as the participants will be asked to ratify a fait accompli”.
It is likely that elections will be held prior to the conference, making the latter even more redundant. Tsipras will have the power to handpick the candidates. He has said that he cannot continue to tolerate Syriza representatives voting against the government’s legislation. It is certain that he would deselect candidates of the left. Holding parliamentary elections prior to the conference also circumvents the left’s ability to organise a new party and test the support of the candidates who oppose the memorandum.
Representatives of 13 left organisations within and outside Syriza released a statement just prior to the last parliamentary session calling for “the constitution of a broad political and social nationwide movement and for the creation of committees of struggle against the new memorandum, against austerity and against the tutelage of the country”.
The signatories include Lafazanis of the Left Current and Antonis Davanellos of the Red Network – the two organisations that make up the Left Platform– as well as Spyros Sakellaropoulos and Dimitris Sarafianos, whose organisations combined make up the largest section of Antarsya, the anti-capitalist coalition.
Syriza central committee member Stathis Kouvelakis said of the statement: “This is widely considered to be the first public step towards the constitution of a new political front that will regroup a large range of forces of the radical left opposing the new memorandum and the neoliberal U-turn of the Syriza government”.
The debates within Syriza now are critical to cohering as many forces as possible to join a new political front.
META, the trade union wing of Syriza, which is dominated by the left, also released a statement before the vote. “We warn the government that workers will stand up and fight, as they have been doing in previous years. They will not allow the implementation of the new austerity measures and policies”, it said. Leadership from unions, the force at the forefront of combating the last two memoranda, will be crucial.
Tsipras is confident that he will increase his majority in fresh elections. The polls show that his popularity has increased because people believe he has done the best he could. While the agreement is widely recognised as the worst of the three, Tsipras was combative, rather than slavishly subservient, toward the country’s creditors – unlike the previous two governments.
However, there are no polls that can measure the gulf between the hope he inspired when winning office on 25 January or during the 5 July referendum campaign and the begrudging consent of people who today are worn out from hearing that an alternative is not possible.
In the winter, the full impact of the pension cuts, tax hikes and recession will bite. That is no guarantee of resistance, only more suffering. But it is a reason for Tsipras to fear that his popularity will wane.
It is now clear that there is a red line running down the middle of Syriza – between those supporting and those opposing the memorandum. Tsipras’ manoeuvres are about how to force the left out of the party while coopting as many of their potential supporters as possible.
The timeframe for the final showdown – always only a matter of months – has shortened to a matter of weeks, whether it is brought on by the confidence motion, elections or the party conference.
The new political front that comes out of these battles will in no way be an electoral rival to Tsipras in the short term. But its potential should not be underestimated. Tsipras certainly sees a threat. He wants to act before it has time to make its presence felt.
The rise of the original Syriza was based on aligning itself to the struggles in the streets and by the unions. If a new political front does the same, then it has the potential to renew people’s hope that an alternative is still possible.
Red Flag’s Colleen Bolger has recently returned from Athens.