Jul 202015
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

The Art of Haiti Cover

The influence of history, religion, and politics on the emergence of a dynamic art movement in Haiti is the subject of this 28 minute award-winning documentary film.

The Art of Haiti juxtaposes images from everyday life with the radiant works of twelve prominent painters and includes interviews with renowned artists Philome Obin and Rigaud Benoit. In addition to delving into historical and political influences, the uneasy co-existence of Christian and Vodoun beliefs is explored through detailed retrospectives of artists influenced by the Vodoun religion, Hector Hyppolite and Andre Pierre.

The Smithsonian Institution contributed to the high quality digitizing of the original 16mm negative so that the DVD could be used as a reference during their restoration of several murals from the destroyed Cathedrale Sainte-Trinite in Port-au-Prince. The film serves as a permanent record of these beautiful murals, filmed years before the Cathedrale was destroyed during the earthquake of 2010.

 

“I very much enjoyed seeing [The Art of Haiti].”    – Alan Lomax, American Folklorist.

“The film would be excellent for classes in Black History and Culture, Latin American studies, Art and Art History and Social Studies. A wonderful way to present the history and daily culture of Haiti to your students.”    – Northeast  Conference on the Teaching of Languages.

“A skillfully edited work which makes effective use of color and music. The Art of Haiti can be highly recommended to those interested in art and in Black and Caribbean culture.”                 – Library Journal.

“The African diaspora as far as art is concerned, is made vivid in Mamalakis’ film, The Art of Haiti.”    – Ramon Price, former Chief Curator, DuSable Museum of African American History,  Chicago.

Produced and directed by Mark Mamalakis

 

AWARDS

Chicago International Film Festival – 3 awards

French Cultural Services Award

Silver Plaque award, Documentary: Arts/Humanities

Illinois Award

 

OFFICIAL SELECTION

Anthropology Film Festival, Field Museum, Chicago.

Museum of Modern Art, NY

Festival International Du Film Des Metiers & D’Art, Aubusson, France

International Festival of Films on Art, Asolo, Italy.

Film Center, The Art Institute of Chicago.

 

TO ORDER

mrkfilms.com, info@mrkfilms.com, Tel. 312/315-2181

Institutional pricing includes PPR $125.00

K-12 Schools $65.00

Home video pricing $29.95

28:35 Minutes

16mm to DVD

English

Completed 1982 and updated in 2014.

 

Jul 192015
 

By Éric Toussaint, Rosa Moussaoui, CADTM, 99GetSmart

Éric Toussaint before the Greek Parliament on 17 June 2015, in the presence of Zoe Konstantopoulou, president of the Greek Parliament and several ministers

Éric Toussaint before the Greek Parliament on 17 June 2015, in the presence of Zoe Konstantopoulou, president of the Greek Parliament and several ministers

Éric Toussaint interviewed by Rosa Moussaoui, Special envoy in Athens for  L’Humanité

Has Athens really been subjected to a financial coup d’état over recent weeks as claimed by many Greek and foreign observers?

Éric Toussaint: Yes and no. What was decisive was the result of political decisions made by political institutions, though obviously complicit with financial interests. The coup d’état was not directly led by financial powers, but by institutions, the European Commission and the heads of State and Government of the Eurozone. Germany was not the only country involved. Mariano Rajoy in Spain, or Pedro Passos Coelho in Portugal, not to mention the Finnish, Latvian and other decidedly neoliberal governments clearly wanted to demonstrate to their respective populations that the options presented to the European peoples by the Syriza government were unworkable. So the primary motivation was political. Clearly though the private banking sector and the multinational corporations also wanted to show that it is impossible to turn away from austerity policies. However, it must be remembered that Greece’s principal creditors are public institutions; since 2012 when they managed to unload their Greek debt, private banks are not the most interested party. The debt restructuring that took place permitted them to comfortably withdraw. Today, despite the failure of the economic policies that have been imposed on Greece, the European Commission, the ECB and the Eurozone countries are adamant that Greece continues on the path of neoliberalism. Remember that the IMF is also a political institution.
Alexis Tsipras expected assurances for debt relief in return for his capitulation to the austerity policies. The creditors have merely acquiesced to a discussion scheduled for this year on a possible debt restructuring starting from 2022. Why this obstinacy, while the IMF itself now considers the debt as unsustainable?
Éric Toussaint: I think that a Debt Restructuring is feasible before 2022. The creditors will say “not before 2022” because they know that this plan will not work and that the debt payment will be unsustainable. They will restructure this debt provided the neoliberal reforms are pursued. Debt is a means of blackmail, an instrument of domination. Basically, in the Greek case, the creditors are not so much motivated by profit, pertinent as it is, as by teaching a lesson to their own people and the peoples of other peripheral countries that there is no question of deviating from the model. For Hollande to say, “Look, even Tsipras and the radical left cannot escape the economic stranglehold!” is a way of vindicating his own abdication in 2012 on the promise to renegotiate the European treaty on fiscal stability.

Did Tsipras have any other choice vis- à-vis the violent attacks from the creditors? Does the alternative boil down to an exit from the Euro?

Éric Toussaint: I don’t think so. The choice was not necessarily between Grexit and remaining in the Euro Zone equipped with a new austerity plan and continuing to pay the debt. It was possible to stay in the Euro Zone by disobeying the creditors through legal means. Human rights violations are at stake here. The Greek authorities should have suspended the debt payment; retrieved control over the Bank of Greece (Antonis Samaras appointed its CEO, who has not served the interests of the country); and created a complementary electronic currency that could have helped to cope with the liquidity crisis, whilst remaining within the Euro Zone.

The State should also have taken the following steps:
1. Organize an orderly liquidation of banks and transfer the assets to the public sector (guaranteeing deposits up to € 100,000) whilst ensuring the protection of small shareholders and recovering the cost of cleansing the banks from the wealth of major international shareholders.
2. Reduce VAT on goods and basic utility services; reduce direct taxes on low income and assets; and levy heavy taxes on the income and wealth of the richest 10% (particularly the richest 1%).
3. Stop privatization and reinforce public services.

After the Greek Parliament adopted the disastrous agreement of 13 July, the prospect of a voluntary exit from the Euro is obvious. That there is no favourable solution for the peoples within the Euro Zone is now evident to more and more Greek and other European people. In case of a voluntary exit from the Euro Zone, the above propositions remain fully valid and a redistributive monetary reform must accompany them (see Greece: Alternatives to the Capitulation).

The ECB, one of the masterminds of the coup, is flooding the financial markets with liquidity and boosting speculation. Can capital generation serve the real economy, social needs and human development?

Eric Toussaint: Of course but this not what the ECB has been doing! Mario Draghi is not “independent”. He is the interface between major private banks and the governments of the Euro Zone. The ECB has deliberately destabilized the Greek economy to suit its own as well as other creditors’ purpose.

Translation : Suchandra de Sarkar, Mike Krolikowski and Christine Pagnoulle

 

Eric Toussaint, Author

Eric Toussaint, Author

Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège. He is the President of CADTM Belgium, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the co-author, with Damien Millet of Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He is the author of many essays including one on Jacques de Groote entitled Procès d’un homme exemplaire (The Trial of an Exemplary Man), Al Dante, Marseille, 2013, and wrote with Damien Millet, AAA. Audit Annulation Autre politique (Audit, Abolition, Alternative Politics), Le Seuil, Paris, 2012. See his Series “Banks versus   the People: the Underside of a Rigged Game!” Next publication : Bankocracy Merlin Press, Londres, May 2015 (English version).

Since the 4th April 2015 he is coordinator of the Truth Commission on Public Debt.

 

Jul 172015
 

By Eric Toussaint, CADTM, 99GetSmart

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On 5 July 2015, by a referendum initiated by the government of Alexis Tsipras and the Hellenic Parliament, the Greek people overwhelmingly rejected the austerity measures imposed by the institutions that were known as the Troika. It was a splendid victory for democracy.

However the agreement reached on Monday, 13 July will lead to fresh austerity measures over several years. This completely contradicts the will of the Greek people expressed in the referendum. During the night of 15th to 16th July, it was adopted thanks to the support of four right-wing parties (PASOK, Potami, New Democracy, Independent Greeks) that brought their votes to Tsipras while 32 Syriza MPs voted against and 7 abstained.

This agreement forces Syriza to abandon essential commitments made during the 25 January 2015 election campaign, which led to its historically significant victory. Syriza has binding responsibilities towards the Greek people and it is tragic that they were not respected, especially since the people very clearly showed their support both on 25 January and 5 July 2015. |1|

The Greek government’s concessions to the creditors include pension cuts (Syriza had promised to restore a 13th month to people who receive pensions of less than 700 euros per month) and an extension of the retirement age; wages will remain restrained; labor relations will become more precarious; there will be an increase in indirect taxes, including those paid by lower income earners; the continuation and acceleration of privatization; the accumulation of new illegitimate debts to repay previous debts; the transfer of valuable Greek assets to an independent fund; further relinquishing of key elements of sovereignty, giving an upper hand to the creditors in matters of legislative power, etc.

Contrary to claims that in return for these detrimental concessions Greece will get three years of respite and will significantly boost its economic activity, it will in fact be impossible to create the primary fiscal surplus announced in the plan considering the continued check on household purchasing power and public expenditure.

Harmful consequences are inevitable: in a few months or early next year at the latest, creditors will attack the Greek authorities for failing to comply with their commitments in terms of primary fiscal surplus and will introduce new demands. Neither the Greek people nor their government will have any respite. The creditors will threaten to bring the promised disbursements to a halt if new austerity measures are not implemented. The Greek authorities will be caught up in a spiral of concessions.

The Truth Committee on Public Debt established by the President of the Greek Parliament has documented in its preliminary report made public on 17 and 18 June 2015 that the debt claimed by the present creditors must be considered illegitimate, illegal and odious. |2| The Committee has also shown that its repayment is unsustainable. On the basis of arguments derived from international and domestic law, the Greek government should have taken a sovereign decision to suspend debt repayment for the time that the debt audit takes to run its full course. Such a suspension of debt payment is quite possible. Since February 2015, Greece has paid €7 billion to creditors without receiving the €7.2 billion previously agreed upon in the bailout program that ended 30 June 2015. Other amounts that should have been paid to Greece have not been transferred: the interest earned by the ECB on Greek securities, the projected balance for the recapitalization of banks, etc. If Greece suspends debt payment to its international creditors, it will save nearly €12 billion by the end of 2015 and the creditors would be compelled to make concessions. |3| A radical reduction in the amount of debt could lead the way either to negotiation or to repudiation.

Contrary to the widespread claim that suspending payment would result in exiting the euro, it would have been possible to stay in the Euro if a series of sovereign measures of self-defense and economic recovery such as a strict control on banks, currency, and taxation (see below) had been implemented. It would have been perfectly possible to eschew the ECB’s, the Eurogroup’s and the EC’s unacceptable and illegitimate injunctions. The Tsipras government decided otherwise, and this has led to a tragic subordination to EU supervision, to more austerity and to the selling off of the Greek national heritage.

It is now clear that negotiations cannot convince the European Commission, the IMF, the ECB and the neoliberal governments in other European countries to take measures that respect the rights of Greek citizens as well those of the people in general. The referendum of 5 July, to which those institutions were fiercely opposed, did not convince them. Instead, in contradiction with basic democratic rights, they have radicalized their demands. Without taking strong and sovereign measures of self-defense, the Greek authorities and the Greek people will not be able to put a stop to the human rights violations perpetrated by the creditors. A host of measures should be taken at EU level to restore social justice and true democracy. Technically, it is not difficult but it must be noted that with the balance of power prevailing in the European Union, the countries with progressive governments can hope neither to be heard nor supported by the European Commission, the ECB, or the European Stability Mechanism. On the contrary, these institutions as well as the IMF and the neoliberal governments are actively opposing the current Greek experiment to demonstrate to all the people of Europe that there is no alternative to the neoliberal model. However, if the Greek authorities adopt strong measures they can gain genuine concessions or simply force the institutions to recognize the decisions taken. It is also vital to find an alternative strategy by initiating massive popular mobilizations in Greece and other European countries. The Greek authorities could draw on that to thwart the attempts to isolate them — attempts that the forces opposed to change in favor of social justice will waste no time in making. In turn, such a stand from the Greek government would empower popular mobilizations and encourage the mobilized people to have confidence in their own strength.

On top of the suspension of the payment of illegitimate, illegal, odious and unsustainable debt, here are a number of alternatives to the conditions in the agreement between Tsipras and the creditors, to be urgently submitted to democratic debate, that are likely to help Greece recover:

1. The Greek state is by far the main shareholder of the major Greek banks (representing more than 80% of the Greek banking sector) and it should therefore take full control of the banks in order to protect citizens’ savings and boost domestic loans to support consumption. First, the State should have assumed its majority stake in the banks and turned them into public-sector companies. Then, the State would have organized the orderly liquidation of these banks whilst ensuring the protection of small shareholders and savers (guaranteeing deposits up to 100,000 €). The State would have recovered the cost of cleansing the banks from major private shareholders who have caused the crisis and then abused public support. To do this it would have had to seize part of their assets which reach far beyond the banking sector. A ’bad bank’ should have been created to isolate and hold toxic assets with a view to their liquidation. Those responsible for the banking crisis should have been sued to pay once and for all. The financial sector must be thoroughly cleaned up and made to serve the people and the real economy.

2. The Greek authorities should retrieve control over the central bank. Yannis Stournaras, the current CEO (appointed by the government of Antonis Samaras), invests all his energy in preventing the changes that the people call for. He is a Trojan Horse that serves the interests of large private banks and neoliberal European authorities. The central bank of Greece should be made to serve the interests of the Greek population.

3. The Greek authorities also had the opportunity to create an electronic currency (denominated in euros) for internal use in the country. The public authorities could raise pensions and salaries in the public services and grant humanitarian aid to people by opening credit accounts for them in electronic currency that could be used for several kinds of payment: electricity and water bills, payment for transport and taxes, purchases of food and basic goods, etc. Contrary to a baseless prejudice, even private businesses would do well to voluntarily accept the electronic method of payment as it will allow them to sell their goods and settle payments to the government (payment of taxes and for the various public services they use). The creation of this additional electronic currency would reduce the country’s needs in euros. Transactions in this electronic currency could be made by mobile phones as is the case today in Ecuador.

4. The restrictions on capital flows must be maintained while the price of consumer goods must be controlled.

5. The privatization agency must be dissolved and replaced by a national
asset management agency (with an immediate halt to privatizations) which will be responsible for protecting the public assets while generating revenue.

6. New measures should be adopted to achieve more tax justice, reinforcing those already taken, notably by levying heavy taxes on the richest 10% of the population (particularly the richest 1%), both on their income and on their assets. Similarly, it would be beneficial to significantly increase the tax on big companies’ profits and to withdraw the tax exemptions for ship-owners. Heavier taxes should be imposed on the Orthodox Church, which only paid a few million euros in taxes in 2014.

7. Taxes on small incomes and wealth and on essential goods and services should be significantly reduced. This would benefit the majority of the population. A whole series of basic utility services should be free (public transport, electricity, and water to a certain limited level of consumption, etc.) These social-justice measures would revive consumption.

8. The fight against tax evasion should be intensified by establishing substantial deterrents. Considerable amounts can thus be recovered.

9. An extensive public plan for job creation should be implemented to rebuild the public services destroyed by years of austerity (for example, health and education) and to pave the way for the necessary ecological transition.

10. This support to the public sector should be accompanied by measures which provide active support to small private ventures that are key elements in the Greek economy.

11. Public domestic borrowing measures may be adopted by issuing public debt securities within national borders. In fact, the State must be able to borrow to improve the living conditions of the population, for example by carrying out public utility works. Some of this work can be financed by the current budget through assertive policy choices, but government borrowing could enable other projects, broader in scope — for example the massive development of public transport to replace private cars; developing the use of renewable energy; creating or reopening local railway services throughout the urban and semi-urban sectors of the country; renovating, rehabilitating or constructing public buildings and social housing while reducing energy consumption and providing quality amenities. Such measures can also finance the ambitious plan for job creation outlined above.

It is urgent that a transparent policy of public borrowing be defined. Our proposal is:

1 Public borrowing should aim at guaranteeing an improvement in living conditions, discarding the logic of environmental destruction.

2. Public borrowing must contribute to a redistribution of wealth and to reducing inequalities. That is why we propose that the financial institutions, large private corporations and wealthy households be legally bound to purchase – commensurate with their wealth and income – non-indexed government bonds at 0% interest. The remaining population can voluntarily acquire government bonds at an interest rate that will ensure a genuine and positive return (e.g. 3%), above inflation. So if the annual inflation is 2%, the interest rate actually paid by the State for the corresponding year will be 5%. Such a policy of positive discrimination (similar to those adopted against racial oppression in the US, the caste system in India, or gender inequalities) will result in tax justice and less inequality of wealth distribution.

Finally, the Greek authorities should ensure that the Audit Committee as well as other committees working on the memoranda and on war damages can continue their task.

Other additional measures that can be democratically debated and implemented on an urgent basis might complement these first emergency measures based on the following five pillars:

- Socializing banks and a part of currency creation.
- Preventing tax evasion and establishing a fair tax reform to provide the State with the necessary resources for implementing its policies.
- Protecting public property, including the national heritage, and placing it at the service of the entire community.
- Rehabilitating and developing public services.
- Supporting local private enterprises.

It is also important to launch Greece into a process of structural democratic change with active citizen participation. To achieve this constituent process, Greece must convene an election of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new democratically chosen Constitution. Once the Constituent Assembly – which should operate on the basis of grievances and proposals received from the people – adopts the draft, it will be submitted to popular vote.

Exiting the Euro Zone. After the Greek Parliament adopted the disastrous agreement of 13thJuly on the 16th, an alternative must include the possibility of voluntarily exiting the Euro Zone if the Greek people support this prospect. This option is comforted by the Greek Parliament’s capitulation on July 16th and by the very content of the agreement. Moreover the Greek people will soon understand that if they want a future that includes justice and emancipation, Greece must get out of the euro zone. In this case, the above propositions remain valid, especially the socialization of banks similar to the nationalization of France’s banking system after the Liberation. These measures should be combined with a significant monetary reform, inspired by the system implemented by the Belgian government after World War II. This reform will specifically aim at deflating the incomes of those who got rich at the expense of others. The principle is simple: during the changeover to another currency, there should be no automatic parity between the old and the new currency (the existing euro against a new drachma, for example) beyond a certain limit.

The amount exceeding the limit must be blocked in an escrow account and its origin must be justified and authenticated. In principle, any amount exceeding the specified ceiling will be exchanged at a less favourable rate (for example, two former euros against one new drachma). When a criminal origin can be proved, the sum may even be forfeited. Such monetary reform would distribute part of the wealth in a more socially just manner. Another objective of the reform is to reduce the money in circulation in order to fight inflationary trends. To be effective, strict control over capital movements and foreign exchange must be established.

Here’s an example (of course the rates are indicative and may be modified after analyzing the distribution of liquid household savings and the adoption of stringent criteria) :

€1 would be exchanged against 1 new drachma (n.D.) up to 200,000 euros
€1 = 0.7 n. D. between 200,000 and 500,000 euros
€1 = 0.4 n. D. between 500,000 and 1 million euros
€1 = 0.2 n. D. above 1 million euros

If a household owns € 200,000 in cash, it gets 200,000 n.D in exchange.
If it has € 400,000, it gets 200,000 + 140,000 = 340,000 n.D
If it has € 800,000, it gets 200,000 + 210,000 + 120,000 = 530,000 n.D
If it has € 2 million, it gets 200,000 + 210,000 + 200,000 + 200,000 = 810,000 n.D

A genuine alternative logic can be triggered and Greece can finally liberate itself from its creditors’ control. The peoples of Europe could again believe in a change that favors justice.

Translation by Suchandra de Sarkar in collaboration with Christine Pagnoulle, Mike Krolikowski and Snake Arbusto.

Footnotes

|1| The author thanks Stavros Tombazos, Daniel Munevar, Patrick Saurin, Michel Husson and Damien Millet for their advice when he was drafting this document. However, the author takes full responsibility for the content of this text.

|2| See: http://cadtm.org/Executive-Summary-of-the-report

|3| €6.64 billion and €5.25 billion respectively, will be paid to the ECB and the IMF by 31 December 2015. Source: Wall Street Journal, http://graphics.wsj.com/greece-debt-timeline/ consulted on 12 July 2015.

————————————————————-

Eric Toussaint, Author

Eric Toussaint, Author

Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège. He is the President of CADTM Belgium, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the co-author, with Damien Millet of Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He is the author of many essays including one on Jacques de Groote entitled Procès d’un homme exemplaire (The Trial of an Exemplary Man), Al Dante, Marseille, 2013, and wrote with Damien Millet, AAA. Audit Annulation Autre politique (Audit, Abolition, Alternative Politics), Le Seuil, Paris, 2012. See his Series “Banks versus the People: the Underside of a Rigged Game!” Next publication : Bankocracy Merlin Press, Londres, May 2015 (English version). Since the 4th April 2015 he is coordinator of the Truth Commission on Public Debt.

Jul 142015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

North Eastern University

Introduction

Class conflict is always present, endemic, in Latin America. What changes, over time, is the character of the class struggle. By ‘character’ we mean, the principal classes and leaders, who direct in the struggle, set the political agenda and define the parameters of socio-economic changes.

What is striking about the class struggle in Latin America, over the past decade and a half, is its changing character. Although different forms of class struggle overlap in most periods, one of three forms of class struggle predominates. Though there is no uniform pattern of class struggle throughout Latin America, for analytical purposes, we can identify the predominance of one type or another in different time frames.

We will examine class struggle in four countries, which best illustrate the variety of class struggles, the changes in class struggle and the dominant tendencies in the current period.

We have chosen to examine the class struggle in five countries: Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador.  Each of these countries illustrates the swings and changes in the nature of the class struggle.

Analytical Categories

We develop our conception of class struggle along two dimensions; according to the leading class and the time frame in which it exercises predominance; and secondly, the scope and depth (degree of change) of the class struggle.

According to our typology, there are three types of class struggle:

  1. The advance class struggle led by popular classes from below (by popular classes, we including workers, peasants, self-employed, artisans).
  2. The moderate class struggle led by the middle class (professionals, middle and high –level public employees, local, medium and small business people and farmers).
  3. The regressive class struggle led by the upper class and affluent middle class (multi-national corporations, bankers, international financial institutions, agro-mining elites, the imperial state and the military elite).

Over the past decade and a half a rough pattern has emerged, in which one or another type of class struggle has predominated. Between 2000-2005 the class struggle-from-below predominated. The popular classes led a struggle for radical structural change via militant methods – including popular uprisings.

Between 2006-2013 moderate class struggles predominated, as middle class center-left politicians took the lead and mediated demands between capital and labor, diverting popular struggles from structural changes to wage, salary and pension issues, to increases in social expenditures and private consumption and developing public-private partnerships.

From 2013 to the present (2016) the upper class struggle has predominated imposing austerity programs, increasing subsidies and incentives for the MNC, repressing class struggles from below, liberalizing the economy and moving toward free trade agreements with the imperial countries.

We will proceed to apply this typology to the four case studies. We will begin by examining the historical antecedents (prior to 2000) which established the framework for the more recent (15 year) cycle of class struggle.

Brazil: Corporatism and Class Struggle

Two types of class struggle have dominated Brazilian social relations in recent decades. For over two decades of military dictatorships(1964-1984), the dominant classes waged war on the workers, employees and peasants, imposing tripartite agreements between state, capitalists and appointed “union” leaders. The absence of authentic class based unions and the economic crisis of the early 1980’s, set in motion the emergence of the ‘new unionism’. The CUT, based on heavy industry and the MST, the rural landless workers movement, in the rural areas, emerged as leading forces in the class struggle. The deteriorating political control of the military, led to opposition from two directions: (1) the agro-mineral and export bourgeoisie which sought to impose a civilian-electoral regime to pursue a neo-liberal economic development strategy, (2) the new class based unionism which sought to democratize and expand the public ownership of the means of production.

The class based CUT allied with the liberal bourgeoisie and defeated the corporatist, military-backed candidates of the Right. In other words, the combined class struggles-from-below and from-above secured electoral democracy and the ascendancy of the neo-liberal bourgeoisie.

Under the neo-liberal regimes three changes took place which further conditioned the class struggle from below.

  1. The CUT secured legality and collective bargaining rights and became institutionalized.
  2. The CUT and the MST backed the newly formed Workers Party (PT), a party which was dominated by leftist middle class professionals’ intent on taking power through electoral processes.
  3. The CUT increasingly depended on financing by the Ministry of Labor, while the PT increasingly looked toward private contractors to finance their election campaigns.

From the mid-nineties to the election of Lula DaSilva in 2002, the CUT and the MST, alternated direct action and (strikes and land occupations) with electoral politics – backing  the candidates of the PT, which increasing sought to moderate class disputes.     Class struggle from below intensified during the impeachment of neo-liberal President Collar. However, once ousted, the CUT moderated the struggle from below.

With the hyperinflation of the 1990’s, the CUT and MST engaged in defensive class struggles opening the way for the election of hardline neo-liberal Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Under his presidency a severe “adjustment” prejudicing workers was implemented to end inflation. Strategic sectors of the agro-mineral sector were privatized. Lucrative public oil and mining enterprises were privatized and banks were denationalized; agro-business took center stage.

The class struggle-from-‘below’ intensified while Cardoso supported the class struggle-from-above for capital.

MST-led land occupations intensified as did violent repression; workers strikes and popular discontent multiplied.

The PT responded by harnessing the class struggle to its electoral strategy. The PT also deepened its ties to private contractors; and replaced its social democratic program with a clientelistic version of neo-liberalism.

The rising tide of class struggle-from-below led to the presidential victory of the PT whose economic program was based on IMF agreements and ties to the dominant classes.

Under the PT, the class struggle from below dissipated. The MST and the CUT subordinated their struggles to the PT which promoted negotiated solutions with the capitalist class. “Moderate class struggle” excluded structural changes and revolved on incremental changes of wages and consumption and increases in poverty spending.

The electoral success of the PT depended on ever greater financing by private contractors based on awarding billion-reales public contracts for multi-million bribes. The lower class vote was secured by a billion dollar antipoverty program and the vote-getting campaigns of the CUT and MST. The high price of export commodities based on the booming Asian market, provided a vast increase in state revenues to finance capital loans and social welfare.

“Moderate class struggle” led by the PT ended with the bust of the mega-commodity boom. After the second election of Dilma Rousseff (2014), the exposure of massive corruption involving the PT further exacerbated the crises and mass support.

As the economy stagnated, the PT adapted to the crises by embracing the structural adjustments of ruling class. As the PT leaders shifted to the class struggle from above they ignited protest from below among the middle class, workers and employees –and even within the PT itself. Mass demonstrations protested over the decline of public services.

By 2015 the ‘middle’ or ‘moderate’ class struggle bifurcated into a class struggle from above and ‘from below’.

Argentina: High Intensity Class Struggle

Argentina has been the center of high intensity class struggle from above and below, over the last half century. A ruling class backed military dictatorship from 1966-73 harshly repressed trade unions and their political parties (mostly left Peronist formations). In response industrial workers led major uprisings in all of the major cities (Cordoba, Rosario included), ultimately forcing the military – capitalist rulers to retreat and convoke elections.

The period from 1973-76 was a tumultuous period of rising class and guerrilla struggle, high inflation, the emergence of capitalist based death squads and successful general strikes. A situation of ‘dual power’ between factory based committees and a highly militarized state, ostensibly led by Isabel Peron and death squad leader José López Rega were ended by a bloody US backed military coup in 1976.

From 1976-83 over 30,000 Argentines were murdered and disappeared by the military-capitalist regime. The vast majority were working class activists in factories and neighborhood organizations. The military-capitalist class victory led to the imposition of neoliberal policies and the illegalization of all workers organizations and strikes. The high intensity class struggle from above ended the class struggle from below.

The loss of authentic factory and community based workers’ leaders was a historic defeat which impacted for decades.

The subsequent military defeat of the Argentine armed forces by the British in the battle of the Malvinas, led to a negotiated transition in which the neo-liberal economic structures and military elite remained intact. The electoral parties emerged and competed for office, but offered little support to the legalized trade unions.

From 1984-2001, Radical and Peronist Presidents pillaged the treasury, privatized and denationalized the economy, while the re-emerging rightwing Peronist trade unions engaged in ritual general strikes to defuse discontent from below and collaborated with the state.

The economic crash of 2000-2001 led to an explosion of class struggle, as thousands  of factories closed and over one quarter of the labor force was unemployed.

The middle class lost their savings as banks failed. A major popular demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace (Casa Rosado) was repressed resulting in three dozen killings. In response over 2 million Argentines engaged in general strikes and uprisings, seized the Congress and besieged the banks.

Millions of unemployed and impoverished workers and middle class assemblies, representing nearly 50% of the population, dominated the streets. But fragmentation and sectarian disputes, prevented a serious alternative government from emerging even in the midst of intense class struggle from below

However intense class struggle from below toppled three presidents in less than two years (2001-2002); but the mass protest remained without leaders or a hegemonic party.

In 2003 a left of center Peronist, Nestor Kirchner was elected and under the pressure of the mass movements, imposed a moratorium on debt and financed an economic recovery based on rising commodity prices and rechanneling debt payments. Unemployment and poverty levels declined sharply, as did the class struggle from below.

From 2003-2013, middle class led class struggle emerged as the dominant feature. Militant leaders of the unemployed workers and the trade unions were co-opted. The Kirchner regime ended military impunity. It tried and jailed hundreds of military officials for human rights crimes, gaining the support of all the human rights groups.

Middle class struggle stimulated labor reforms and the recovery of capitalism; ended the capitalist crises and de-radicalized the workers struggle. The Kirchner regimes (Nestor and Cristina Fernandez) channeled the revenues from the mega-commodity boom, to increases in wages, salaries and pensions. It also subsidized and attracted foreign and domestic agro business and mining capitalists.

By the end of the decade (2003-2013) the capitalist class felt secure; the threats from below were diluted. High growth led to increases in class struggle from above. Agro-business organized boycotts to lessen taxes; Buenos Aires business and professional groups regrouped and organized mass protests. Left parties and trade unions, co-opted or fragmented, engaged in economistic struggles. Some sectarian leftist groups, like the Workers Party even joined the rightwing demonstrations.

By 2012 the commodity boom came to an end. The rightwing dominated the political horizon. The Kirchner- Fernandez regime leaned to the Right, embracing extractive capitalism as the economic paradigm.

From 2013-2015, the center-right and right dominated electoral politics. The trade unions were once again under the leadership of rightwing Peronists (Moyano, Barrionuevo etc.). Poplar movements were in opposition but without any significant political representation.

After a decade and a half, the cycle of the class struggle had gone round from intense class struggle-from-below, to middle class-mediated class struggle, to the re- emergence of the class struggle-from-above.

Bolivia: From Popular Uprisings to Andean Capitalism

For the better part of a half century, Bolivia had the reputation of possessing the most combative working class in Latin America. Led by Bolivian Labor Confederation (COB) and the mine workers, dynamite in hand, they led the revolution of 1952 which overthrew the oligarchy, nationalized the mines and, with the support of the peasantry carried out a far-reaching agrarian reform. However, in the aftermath, of the revolution, the workers and trade unions disputed power with an alliance of middle class politicians, the National Revolutionary Movements (MNR) and peasants.

The uprising and revolution were aborted. Over the following decade, pitched battles between leftist miners and a re-assembled military-peasant alliance lead to a US backed coup in 1962. The US backed Rene Barrientos as “President”. From 1964-68, the dictatorship imposed draconian measures on the mining communities and liberalized the economy by decreeing IMF structural reforms.

In reaction a nationalist-military revolt, led by General Ovando, rose to power and proposed to nationalize Gulf Oil.

In 1970 a major working class revolt installed J. J. Torres to power. Even more important the uprising installed a worker-peasant legislative assembly. With a majority of worker legislators and a substantial minority of peasants, the ‘”Popular Assembly” proceeded to pass radical legislation, nationalizing major banks, resources and factories. A sharp polarization resulted. While civil society moved to the radical left, the state apparatus, the military, moved toward the right. The workers’ parties possessed radical programs, the right monopolized arms.

In 1971 the Torres regime was overthrown, the workers’ Assembly dissolved, the trade union illegalized, many militants were killed, jailed and exiled.

From 1972-2000, military rulers, rightwing and center-left regimes alternated in power and reversed the changes instituted by the 1952 revolution. Radical or revolutionary movements and trade unions demonstrated a great capacity for class struggle and ability to overthrow regimes, but they were incapably of taking power and ruling – a practice, which continued in the new century.

Between 2000-2005 major popular rebellions took place, including the ‘water-war’ in Cochabamba in 2000; a mass worker peasant uprising in La Paz in 2003 which ousted neo-liberal incumbent President Sanchez de Lozado; and a second uprising in 2005 which drove incumbent President Carlos Mesa from power and led to new elections and the victory of radical coca peasant leader Evo Morales to the Presidency.

From 2006-2015 and continuing forward. Morales and his MAS party (Movement to Socialism) ruled, ending the period of intense class struggle and popular uprisings.

Morales’ government implemented a series of piecemeal socio-economic reforms and cultural changes, while incorporating and co-opting peasant movement and trade union leaders. The net effect was to de-radicalize popular movements in civil society.

The key to the stability, continuity and re-election of Morales was his ability to separate socio-economic and culture reforms from radical structural changes. In the process, Morales secured the electoral support of the mass of peasants and workers, isolated the more radical sectors and ensured that the class struggle would revolve around short term wage and salary issues that would not endanger the stability of the government.

The key to the recurrent revolutionary class struggle in Bolivia was the fusion of a multiplicity of demands. High intensity class struggle resulted from the multiple points of social-ethnic, national and cultural oppression and class exploitation. Immediate economic demands were linked to class struggles for long-term, large scale systemic changes.

The major protagonists of the social upheavals suffered from and demanded an end to deep and pervasive ethno-racial discrimination and indignities. They rejected foreign capitalist pillage of natural resources and wealth which provided no positive returns for the mining and rural communities. They fought for Indian self-rule and presence in government. They resented the denial of symbolic Indian presence in public or private spaces.

Low wages relative to profits and hazardous employment with no compensatory payments radicalized the miners. In this context where workers and Indians were denied governmental access and representation, they relied on direct action- popular upheavals and demands for social revolution were the route to secure social justice.

The coming to power of Evo Morales opened the door to a new kind of mass politics, based essentially on his ability to fragment demands. He implemented cultural and economic reforms and neutralized demands for socio-economic revolution.

President Morales convoked a new constitutionals assembly which included a strong representation of Indian delegates. Bolivia was renamed a ‘Plurinational’ State. Formal recognition and approval of the ‘autonomy’ of Indian nations was approved. He frequently met and consulted with Indian leaders. Symbolic representation de-radicalized the Indian movements.

The government took majority shares in joint ventures with gas and oil corporations and increased the royalty and tax rates on profits of mining companies. Morales rejected outright nationalization under worker control.

Morales denounced imperialist intervention in Bolivia and elsewhere, and expelled US Ambassador Goldberg for plotting a coup together with the extreme right opposition in Santa Cruz. He expelled the Drug Enforcement Agency and the US military mission for meddling in internal affairs.

He increased salaries and wages, including the minimum incrementally each year between 5% and 10%, and social spending.

These reforms were compatible with long-term contracts with dozens of major foreign multi-national mining companies which continued to reap and remit double digit profits. Though the government claimed to ‘nationalize’ foreign owned mining companies, in most cases it meant simply higher tax rates, compatible with the rates in the major capitalist countries. The revolutionary demands to socialize the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ faded and revolutionary mass energies were diverted into collective bargaining agreements.

While the government paid lip service to and celebrated indigenous culture, all the government’s major decisions were made by mestizo and “European” descended technocrats. MAS bureaucrats over-ruled local assemblies in the selection and election of candidates.

While government legislation proposed ‘land reform’ the ‘hundred families’ in Santa Cruz still controlled vast plantations, dominating the agro-export economy. They continued receiving the vast majority of government credits and subsidies. Poverty and extreme poverty rates were reduced but still affected the majority of Indians. Public lands, offered for Indian settlement were located far from markets and with few support resources. As a result  few families were resettled.

While Evo articulated an anti-imperialist discourse to the people he constantly travelled abroad to Europe seeking and signing off on lucrative private investment deals.

Corruption crept into the MAS party and pervaded its officials in Cochabamba, El Alto and La Paz.

The net effect of Evo’s domestic reform and cultural inclusive agenda was to neutralize and marginalize radical critiques of his macro-economic adaptation to foreign capital.

His affirmation of Indian culture neutralized the opposition of Indian-peasants and farmworkers to the euro-Bolivian plantation owners who prospered under his ‘extractive export strategy’.

The class struggle focused on narrow economic issues directed by trade union leaders (COB) who consulted and negotiated agreements in accordance with Evo’s economic guidelines.

Under President Morales, the class struggle from below diminished; popular rebellions disappeared; and collective bargaining took center stage. The Morales decade witnessed the lowest intensity of class struggle in a century.

The contrast between the 1995-2005 decade and the 2006-2015 period is striking. While the earlier period, under Euro-Bolivian rulers, witnessed at least several general strikes and popular uprising, during the later decade there were none. Even the hostile, racist landowning and mining oligarchy of Santa Cruz eventually came to political agreements and ran on joint electoral slates with the MAS, recognizing the benefits of fiscal conservatism, social stability, capitalist prosperity and class peace.

Under Morales conservative fiscal regime, Bolivia foreign reserves increased from under $4 billion to over $15 billion – an achievement which pleased the World Bank but left the vast majority of peasants still below the poverty line.

In large part the success of Evo in defusing the class struggle and channeling ‘radicalism’ into safe channels was due to the incremental changes which were underwritten by the mega-commodity boom – the decade long rise in commodity prices.

Iron, oil, tin, gold, lithium, soya prices soared and allowed Morales to increase state expenditures and wages, without affecting the wealth and profits of the agro-mineral elite. As the mega boom ended in 2013-2015, and nepotism and corruption in official circles flourished, the MAS party lost provincial and municipal elections in major cities. The MAS regime plagued by corruption scandals attempted to foist unpopular candidates on the mass base and lost. The main opposition was from the center-right middle class. The dormant and coopted COB and peasant movements continued to back Morales but faced an increasingly rebellious rank and file. The electoral decline may to foretell a revival of the radical class struggle.

Ecuador: The Emergence of Middle Class Radicalism

Ecuador has a long history of palace coups of little social-economic consequences, up until the first half-decade of the 21st century.

The prelude to the popular upheavals of the recent period was a ‘decade of infamy’.  Rightwing oligarchical parties alternated in power, pillaging billions from the national treasury. Overseas bankers granted high risk loans which were transferred to overseas accounts. Major oil companies, namely Texaco, exploited and contaminated large tracts of land, and water, with impunity. Client regimes granted the US a major military bases in Manta, from which it violated Ecuadorean air and maritime sovereignty. Ecuador surrendered its currency and dollarized the economy, eliminating its capacity to elaborate sovereign monetary policy.

The class-ethnic struggle in Ecuador is deeply contradictory. CONAIE (Indigenous, Nationalities Confederation of Ecuador founded in 1986), led major uprisings in the 1990’s and was the driving force in toppling oligarch Jamil Mahuad in 2000. Yet it allied with rightwing Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez and formed a three person junta which eventually gave in to US pressures and allowed vice president and oligarch, Gustavo Noboa to assume the Presidency.

In the run-up to the Presidential elections of 2002, CONAIE and the trade union led by the oil and electrical workers unions intensified the class struggle and mobilized the working class and Indian communities. However, in the 2002 presidential elections CONAIE’s political arm Pachakutik and most of the militant trade unions backed Lucio Gutierrez. Once elected Gutierrez embraced the agenda of the Washington Consensus, privatized strategic sectors of the economy and backed US policy against Venezuela and other progressive governments in the region. Gutierrez arrested and dismissed militant oil worker leaders and promoted agro-mineral exploitation of Indian territory.

Despite CONAIE’s eventual disaffection, Pachakutik remained in the government up until Gutierrez was ousted in 2005 by a movement largely made up of a disaffected middle class ‘citizens’ movement’.

Subsequently, during the 2005 elections, the trade unions and CONAIE backed Rafael Correa. Less than two years later they denounced him for supporting petroleum company exploitation of regions adjoining Indian nations.

CONAIE and the trade unions intensified their opposition in 2008 precisely when Correa declared the national debt illegitimate and defaulted on Ecuador’s $3 billion dollars debt and reduced bond payments by 60%.CONAIE and Pachakutik were marginalized because of their opportunist alliances with Gutierrez. Their attacks on Correa, as he proceeded to increase social expenditures and infrastructure investments in the interior further diminished their strength. In the elections for a Constituent Assembly, Pachakutik barely received 2% of the vote.

While the trade unions and CONAIE continued to mobilize in support of ethno-class demands, Correa increased support among Indian communities via infrastructure programs financed by the mega-commodity boom, large scale loans from China and the reduction of debt payments.

Faced with declining support from the popular classes, CONAIE and sections of the trade unions supported a US backed police coup attempt on September 30, 2010. Pachakutik leader Clever Jimenez called the right wing coup a “just action”, while tens of thousands of people demonstrated their support for Correa and his Country Alliance Party (Alianza PAIS).

Correa’s “Citizen Revolution” (Revolucion Ciudadana) is essentially based on the deepening of the extinctive capitalist developmental model rooted in mining, oil, hydro electrical power and bananas.

During the mega commodity boom from 2006-2012, Correa expanded health, education and welfare provisions, while limiting the power of the coastal elite in Guayaquil.

With the end of the boom and decline in prices, Correa attempted to weaken left and trade union opposition by passing restrictive labor legislation and extending petrol exploration into the Indian highlands.

In November 2013, trade unions, especially in the public sector formed a ‘United Workers Front’ to protest against Correa’s legislation designed to curtail the organization of independent public sector unions.

In the 2014 municipal elections the rightwing oligarchical parties defeated Correa in the major cities, including Guayaquil, Quito and Cuenca. Once again CONAIE and the trade unions focused their attack on Correa and ignored the fact that the beneficiaries of his decline was the hard neo-liberal right.

In June 2015 the hard right led by the Mayor of Guayaquil Jaime Nebot and millionaire banker Guillermo Lasso led a series of massive protests, over a progressive inheritance tax. They sought to oust Correa via a coup. Pachakutik supporters participated in the protests, CONAIE attacked Correa and called for an uprising instead of backing his progressive inheritance tax.

In other words the anti-extractive Indian-labor coalition, the United Workers Front and CONAIE, favored the ousting of post neo-liberal extractive capitalist’ Correa, but in reality facilitated the ascent to power of the traditional oligarchical Right.

Conclusion

The class ethnic alliances in Bolivia and Ecuador have had divergent outcomes. In the former, they brought to power the Center-left government of Evo Morales. In the latter they led to opportunist alliances, political defeats and ideological chaos.

The class struggle from below has led to a variety of political outcomes, some more progressive than others. But none have resulted in a worker-peasant-Indian regime, despite the claims of some popularly elected presidents like Evo Morales.

The class struggle has demonstrated a cyclical pattern, rising in opposition to rightwing neo-liberal regimes, (De la Rua in Argentina, Cardoso in Brazil, Sanchez de Losado in Bolivia, Mahuad in Ecuador), but ebbed with the coming to power of center-left regimes. The exception is in the case of Ecuador where the main protagonists of the class struggle backed the rightist regime of Lucio Gutierrez – and fell in disarray.

The key to the success of the center-left regimes was the decade long boom in commodity prices, which allowed them to dampen the class struggle by piece meal reforms, and increases in wages and salaries. The incremental reforms weakened the revolutionary impulses from below.

The de-compression of the class-struggle and the channeling of struggle into institutional channels, led to the co-option of sectors of the popular leadership, and the separation of economic demands from struggles for popular political power.

From a historical perspective the class struggle succeeded in securing significant reductions in unemployment and poverty, increases in social spending and the securing of legal recognition.

At the same time, the leaders of the class-based movements more or less abided by the extractive capitalist model, and accepted the devastating impact on the environment, economy and communities of indigenous peoples.

Minority sectors of the popular movements in Brazil struggled against the Workers’ Party regime’s devastation of the Amazon rain forest and the displacement of Indian communities.

Everywhere President Evo Morales spoke at international forums in defense of the Mother Earth (Pacha Mama) while in Bolivia he opened the Tipnis national reserve to oil and mining exploitation – committing Matricide against Pacha Mama!

Likewise in Argentina President Cristina Fernandez faced no trade union opposition when she signed a major agreement with Monsanto, to further deepen genetic altered grain production and a major oil agreement with Chevron-Exxon to exploit oil and gas exploitation by fracking in the Vaca Muerto (Dead Cow) complex.

In Ecuador the CONAIE-Gutierrez agreement and subsequent support of Correa led to a deepening of ecological exploitation and diminished opposition to Correa’s extractive capitalism.

The biggest blow to the extractive capitalist model did not come from the class struggle but from the world market. The decline of commodity prices led to the large scale reduction of the flow of overseas extractive capital.

However, the decline of commodity prices weakened the center-left and led to a resurgence of the class struggle from above. In Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil, the upper classes have organized large scale street protests and were victorious in municipal and state elections. In contrast the class struggle organizations remain wedded to defensive economic struggles over wages and welfare cuts by their former center-left allies.

The rise of the class struggle from above occurs during: 1) the demise of center-left regimes, 2) the economic crises of a commodity based extractive capitalist development model, 3) the co-optation and or demobilization of the class struggle organizations.

In Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia, the rightwing led class struggle from above, aims for political power: to oust the center-left, and the re-imposition of  neo-liberal free trade policies. They seek to reverse social spending and progressive taxation, dismantle regional integration and reinstate repressive legislation.

Over the next five year period 2015-2020, we can expect the return of the hard neo-liberal right, and the break-up of tripartite (labor, capital, government) cooperation, and the return of bi-partite capital-state rule.

Cut loose from easy negotiations involving steady incremental gains, the popular movements are likely to combine the struggle for short term gains with demands for long-term structural changes. Revolutionary class consciousness is likely to re-emerge in most cases.

The return of the Right will intensify class struggle and regressive socio-economic measures across the board. It may unify disparate sectors of the urban and rural working population. Once again the stage may be set to put in motion the dynamics of social revolutionary class struggle.

Jul 132015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

The post neo-liberal regimes which flourished in five Latin American countries in the first decade of the 21st century were a product of three inter-related historical processes. The breakdown of the neo-liberal development model, which in turn ignited mass popular movements for radical political-economic transformations; the incapacity of the mass movements to produce a viable alternative worker-peasant based regime; the beginning of a decade long mega commodity boom which provided a huge influx of revenues which allowed the center-left regimes to finance a capitalist recovery, and secure support from the extractive capitalist sector and finance generous increases in wages, salaries and pensions.

These hybrid, extractive capitalist-national-populist regimes were repeatedly elected until the middle of the second decade of the 21st century. The capitalist-populist electoral coalition encountered major opposition with the end of the commodity boom. The fall in world-market prices led to demands by the techno-capitalist elites for measures of fiscal constraints aimed at reducing social expenditures. At the same time they insisted the regimes grant fiscal largesse for the agro-mineral elite by lowering capital gains taxes and increase fiscal incentives for investors.

As a result, the end of the commodity boom led to the termination of the center-left brokered “consensus”. In its place the regimes faced a right-left crossfire: rightwing business associations led successful electoral challenges and large scale street mobilizations, and the left-wing trade unions and social movements resisted through strikes in defense of existing social gains. The question raised by this left-right crossfire is whether this spells the end of the post neo-liberal, hybrid regimes and the return of neo-liberal regimes or class based leftist politics?

What is not in question is the increased class polarization and the challenges to the stability of post neo-liberal regimes.

Clearly the global conditions which sustained the broad social coalition of post neo-liberalism have changed for the worst. The deteriorating prices of commodities and the corresponding decline in revenues that sustained it are no longer present.

The conditions are set for a change in development strategy and socio-economic policies. These changes will necessarily result from the nature and impacts of the attacks from the crossfire between Right and Left.

We will proceed by analyzing the nature and impact of the Right-Left crossfire under five post neo-liberal regimes in Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela.

We will then proceed to evaluate the relationship of class forces resulting from this conflict and the probable outcomes, including the ways in which the post neo-liberal regimes respond to the crossfire.

Finally, we will address the reason why, in the immediate aftermath of the decline of the post neo-liberal regimes, the Right will probably return to power, rather than the Left.

Ecuador: President Correa and the Right-Left Crossfire

Throughout the months of June-July 2015, a coalition of business, banking and big city mayors led large scale demonstration opposed to progressive inheritance and excess profit taxes proposed by President Correa. At the same time, the left led by CONAIE and a sector of the labor movement also organized mass protests denouncing repressive labor reforms and oil exploitation contracts encroaching on Indian communities.

President Correa convoked large scale pro-government demonstrations backed by supporters of his “Citizens Revolution” and sectors of the Indian and trade unions.

The rightwing-business mobilization which began as a tax protest escalated toward calls to oust the government – a coup.

The Right-Left opposition, however, faced a mobilized public, which included large sectors of the urban middle and lower class.

In the confrontation, the Rightwing opposition movement was far stronger and better organized than the Left – and more likely to be the principle beneficiary of any coup.

While a coup attempt is possible, the Right is firmly ensconced in institutional power, namely they control three of the most important municipal governments. The Right is not likely to risk a coup which, if defeated, would lead to strengthening Correa’s Presidency.

The anti-Correa left seems to reject the idea that what is at stake in this confrontation is the question of democracy. For the left the ouster of Correa is the primary objective. They ignore the fact that a ‘regime change’ would mean a return to oligarchical pro-US rulership and the end of democratic rights.

Correa’s strategy of relying on extractive capital to finance social reforms, has strengthened the Right economically, while alienating sectors of the progressive Indian movement. He has in turn used state revenues to reach the non-CONAIE Indian communities especially in the Amazon region.

The Right in 2014 gained electoral victories in major cities thanks to the end of the commodity boom. Even if the coup fails, they have at least forced Correa to retreat and withdraw his inheritance tax.

Argentina: The End of Kirchnerism and the Return of the Hard Right

Despite repeated electoral victories based on a decade of social reforms financed by the extractive commodity boom the Nestor Kirchner – Cristina Fernandez regimes have not created a distinct political presence capable of challenging the resurgent neo-liberal right.

The “Front for Victory” party which supports President Fernandez is made up of rightwing Peronists, provincial neo-liberals (supporters of ex-President Menem) and a motley collection of trade union officials and political opportunists.

Facing the end of the mega commodity boom and the decline of government revenues, the post neo-liberal regime of Fernandez deepened ties with the major foreign oil companies. The regime turned away from indexing wages and salaries to rising inflation which provoked a wave of strikes from left and rightwing trade unionists.

The rightwing mayor of Buenos Aires, Macri and his Republican Proposal Party (RPP) tightened its control over the capital and waged war on the regime. Backed by the major agro business, banking and industrial associations, the RPP is a serious contender to win the Presidential elections.

The Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores (FIT) and related left wing parties received approximately 7% of the vote in the Buenos Aires municipal elections. However, one sector of the left trade unions have played an ambiguous game. The ‘Partido Obrero’ (the Workers Party) has mobilized its trade union activists in common cause with rightwing Peronist union bosses in general strikes and road blockages.

Clearly the main beneficiary of the demise of the Kirchner era, and the dissolution of the progressive coalition backing it, will be the neo-liberal right led by Macri and the right wing Peronists.

Even President Fernandez’s choice of right wing Vice President Scioli as a Presidential candidate is a recognition that the capitalist-worker alliance is finished.

The Right Peronists allied with the agro-financial-industrial elite will compete with the far right neo-liberals for office.

The left will be marginalized from the electoral process and will rely on its trade union militants to forestall major reductions in social expenditures, public sector salaries and the deepening of the extractive capitalist model.

If the past and present is any indication, the left trade unionists will concentrate on wage-salary struggles and street action in opposition to privatization of public enterprises that lead to the discharge of workers and the reversion of collective bargaining agreements.

In summary the political advance of the class struggle from above will narrow the focus of the struggle from below to a defensive mode.

However, it is likely that the adoption of radical neo-liberal measures will lead to greater inequalities, unemployment and devastation of the environment. Corporate environmental damage should fall heaviest on the provinces away from the concerns of the Buenos Aires right and left. Mass ecological protests are likely in the provinces.

Recent history teaches us that the implementation of neo-liberal measures leads to great imbalances and volatility. The model is prone to deep crises, such as took place in 2000 – 2003. The very success of the class struggle from above in imposing its policies provides the bases for a return of intense class struggle from below. This was the case a decade and a half ago (2001-2003).

Brazil: The Post Neo-Liberal Lefts’ ‘Conversion’ to the Rightwing Agenda

While the class struggle from below politicized and mobilized the electorate to vote into office the Workers Party (WP) in 2002, and re-elect it three times, at no point did  Presidents, Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff move beyond the neo-liberal policies of their predecessors. Instead, taking advantage of the commodity boom and huge influx of revenues from high oil, iron, soya, beef and other agro-mineral prices, the PT regimes increased social expenditures, the minimum wage and easy credit for mass consumption.

The PT, with the collaboration of its trade union affiliate the CUT, replaced class consciousness with mass consumerism.

The class struggle in the factories and the countryside diminished, as the CUT and MST negotiated agreements with the regime. The PT, in turn, increasingly depended on large scale bribes and swindles with major construction companies to finance its electoral campaigns and to purchase the loyalty of opposition congresspeople in order to pass legislation.

The PT under Lula organized Brazil’s biggest clientelistic, multi-billion dollar anti-poverty program. The PT regime financed a $60 dollar monthly family subsidy program that ensured large electoral majorities in the Northeast of Brazil.

The left opposition to the PT, both electoral and trade union, was marginalized. In contrast the right wing PMDB allied with the PT, in a power sharing agreement, to pass legislation and share the multi-billion dollar windfalls from the bribe taking. The neo-liberal Social Democratic Party retained positions of power in Sao Paulo including the governorship.

With the end of the commodity boom (2012-2016) the economy stagnated. Revenues to fund the clientelistic programs diminished. The foreign flow of capital declined. Trade and fiscal deficits emerged. The PT’s large scale pillage of the public oil giant Petrobras provoked mass unrest, led by the upper and middle class.

The PT’s extravagant spending on sports complexes for the World Cup Games and the Olympics outraged the urban middle and lower classes. They organized multi-million mass protests over deteriorating educational, health and transport facilities and the lack of public housing for the poor.

The PT was caught in a Right-Left crossfire. President Rousseff responded by adopting the entire political economic agenda of the neo-liberal right. Social expenditures were cut, pensions and poverty programs were reduced.

Rousseff appointed hardline neo-liberals to head the Finance and Agricultural Ministries.

Rousseff pledged to privatize the majority of infrastructure – ports, airfields, highways and railroads.

Rousseff agreed to break Petrobras public monopoly on off-shore oil exploitation, auctioning off to Shell the most lucrative sites.

In other words instead of resisting the advance of the upper class struggle from above, Rousseff joined it and implemented its agenda.

In contrast, on the Left, the urban mass movements rose and fell or were reduced to occasional local protests. The CUT and MST remained passive or even supported the Rousseff regime using the pretext of a mythical coup threat.

In other words, the class struggle from above led by  financial, agro-mineral and commercial capital found a willing accomplice in the PT President.

The conversion of the PT into an ally of the hardline neo-liberal Right was also evident in Rousseff’s pledge of collaboration on promoting free trade with the Obama regime, thus backing Washington’s drive to re-assert hegemony in the hemisphere.

If the class struggle from below brought the PT to power, the very same party neutralized and disarmed and ultimately betrayed their former allies by embracing the economic elites, who were engaged in class struggle from above.

The correlation of forces in this new context is heavily weighted in favor of a rightwing return to power and a prolonged period of class struggle from above in the pursuit and implementation of a radical neo-liberal agenda.

Bolivia: From Left-Right Confrontation to Accommodation and Continuity

The center-left government of Evo Morales has swept to three electoral victories (2005-2016) secured the backing of the major trade union and peasant confederations; and proceeded to deepen the extractive capitalist model, despite the decline in world commodity prices.

Morales party, the Movement to Socialism (MAS) was the prime beneficiary of the worker-peasant uprisings of 2003 and 2005 which ousted neo-liberal Presidents Sanchez de Losada and Carlos Mesa. With mass support and the backing of the Armed Forces, President Morales easily put-down a coup (2009) originating in Santa Cruz and backed by the US Ambassador, USAID and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

As the MAS government consolidated its hold over national, state and municipal governments, its ranks were filled with opportunists defecting from other parties – diluting its original popular base.

At the center of policymaking, especially in the economic realm, technocrats and fiscal conservatives predominated.

Morales utilized anti-imperialist rhetoric, criticizing US imperial wars and intervention in Venezuela and Honduras and elsewhere, to disarm critics of his extensive links to dozens of foreign multi-national mining corporations operating in Bolivia.

He embraced ‘Mother Earth” rhetoric, while opening highways and mining operations in nature preserves (TIPNIS).

Through co-optation of trade union leaders and incremental wage increases’ Morales de-radicalized the trade union movement. Through symbolic representation, anti-poverty spending and regulation of coca farming he secured the support of the bulk of the Indian movement.

In effect Morales has de-radicalized the working class-Indian movements, while encouraging the growth and prosperity of his new allies among the agro-mineral elites.

The result has been a resurgence of a ‘new right’ based on the middle class in the principle cities.

The ‘new right’ attacks widespread, large scale corruption in state and municipal government. It exploits popular grievances over the failure of MAS officials to implement socio-economic programs and the abuses of power by the governing elites.

In the state and local elections of 2014, the MAS suffered major defeats in La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and most other cities, including in its former proletarian bulwark El Alto.

The decay of the MAS, and the rise of the Right and, to a lesser degree, the eco-socialist left, has, however, not directly affected the popularity of Morales. He was quick to decry the corruption rampant in the MAS and call for a ‘rectification’.

The shift in the correlation of forces toward right-wing resurgence, however, is tempered by the working relations emerging between local and state opposition officials and the national government.

While ideological differences persist, Morales moderate socio-economic policies, especially his conservative fiscal and pro-extractive policies, neutralize any right-wing challenge for state power.

The leftwing attack on extractivism has received backing from several peasant leaders and NGOs. MAS policies promoting agro-exporters has alienated landless peasants. The mostly symbolic representation of Indians has provoked opposition from militant Indian leaders.

Nonetheless, the left-Indian-ecology opposition remains fragmented. The left has been unable to fashion a national political coalition, to compete electorally with the MAS and the middle class right. Their main venue is street protests, road blockages and public demonstrations.

In the meantime the right has secured local and provincial political platforms to challenge the Morales regime in future elections.

Venezuela: The Right-Left Confrontation

Venezuela has been the center of the most intense class struggle in Latin America for over a decade and a half.

On the one hand, the upper-class and the US have resorted to every instrument of class struggle from above. These include a military coup (2002); a bosses lockout of the strategic oil industry in 2002/3; a recall referendum and violent street protests leading to 43 deaths in 2015/15; capitalist induced consumer goods shortages; paramilitary operations; contraband activities to provoke scarcities; US funded electoral campaigns.

In response the Venezuelan Socialist government under the leadership of Hugo Chavez and Maduro, backed by its mass organizations – trade unions and community based movements and the loyalties of the military – has mobilized and defeated rightwing violent assaults in the streets, factories and fields as well as at the ballot box.

The Venezuelan Socialists combined the struggle from below with radical structural changes by the government. In response to the failed coup thousands of community based councils were formed. In response to the oil lockout, the oil workers and technicians took control.

The government nationalized and reallocated oil revenues to finance vast social programs, raising income, instituting a free national health program and establishing tuition free universities.

The class struggle in Venezuela was internationalized. The US established seven military bases in Colombia and trained paramilitary death squads for cross border attacks in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government responded by supporting popular struggles in Colombia.

Washington launched an international “war on terror” – a pretext for wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen; Venezuela opposed it and rallied support in Latin America.

Washington sought to secure a US centered Latin American Free Trade agreement. Venezuela and its center-left allies in Latin America rejected it.

Venezuela countered by organizing and backing two new regional organizations which excluded the US: ALBA for the Andean countries and Petro Caribe including mainly Caribbean and Central American countries.

Throughout the greater part of the decade and a half of class struggle (1999-2015) the correlation of forces favored the leftist Venezuelan government over the US backed Venezuelan rightist elites.

To a large degree the intensity of the bipolar class struggle precluded the emergence of a tri-polar struggle as is the case in Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina.

Most of the radical left functions as tendencies within the Venezuelan Socialist Party. Likewise on the right, the divisions between the electoralists and the coup advocates are blurred, especially during elections and street confrontations.

The intensity and duration of high levels of class struggle in Venezuela, is largely a function of the deep and pervasive involvement of the US imperial state in all facets of the class struggle.

As we have seen in Bolivia and Ecuador, and more so in Venezuela, the intervention of the US imperial state agencies exacerbated class struggle by escalating the organizational and material resources to the upper classes. This forced the center-left in the Socialist Party to radicalize its socio-economic to secure mass support.

US destabilization efforts in Venezuela served as the catalyst for President Chavez to adopt a socialist, anti-imperialist agenda and to promote the wide diffusion of socialist ideology among the popular classes.

In a word, the combination of upper class socio-economic and US imperialist demands reinforced the extremist nature of the class struggle from above. Rightwing extremism in turn provoked a radicalization of the class struggle from below.

The intransigent Venezuelan upper class – US opposition to redistributive socio-economic policies, their total rejection of an independent “Bolivarian” foreign policy and increased social expenditures, forced the Socialist government to take measures changing the structures of property ownership: the government expropriated oil and bauxite firms, large scale farms and several factories.

However with the onset of the collapse of oil prices, the class struggle from above gained momentum. The Socialist government is vulnerable because it did not diversify its economy. As a result, as revenues declined, social programs were reduced.

Private capital remained dominant in the retail and banking sector. Taking advantage of their strategic positions the elites induced shortages and capital disinvestment, provoking shortages and unemployment.

The death of President Chavez created a leadership problem. In response the US intensified its support for groups engaged in violent destabilization campaigns, attempting to lay the groundwork for an upper class electoral victory in the Congressional elections in December 2015 as a prelude to a referendum revoking President Maduro’s term in office

Under conditions of economic stagnation, declining revenues, consumer goods shortages and inadequate administration responses, the class struggle from above has advanced. The class struggle from below has shifted into a defensive mode.

This raises the question of whether the left’s decade long favorable correlation of forces can continue in the immediate future.

Conclusion

The decade long commodity boom coincided with the rise of center-left parties and the eventual ‘moderation’ of intense class struggle from below.

The key to the rise and dilution of the class struggle is found in the changing political, economic and global context in which it is located.

In most instances, the mass socio-political movements, when fully mobilized, can establish a favorable correlation of forces as evidenced in the overthrow or electoral defeat of incumbent neo-liberal regimes. However, the proponents of class struggle from below have difficulty in forming a worker-peasant government.

In all cases, except Venezuela, center left political leaders rose to power and filled the political vacuum. While they initially met some of the immediate popular demands, in the course of ruling, they diluted and de-radicalized the class struggle from below.

The case of Venezuela is exceptional in part because of the continuous intervention of the US imperial state which undermined the possibility of a successful center-left political compromise between capital-labor.

The correlation of class forces is in constant flux, reflecting larger political and economic processes. In the context of the demise of neo-liberalism, the class struggle from below became the radical axis of political power. The class struggle from below gained adherents among broad sectors of the impoverished middle class, the unemployed and the self-employed.

The ascendancy of the center-left governments had a major impact in moderating the class struggle.

The capitalist class recovered its influence as the economy prospered and the popular classes were de-radicalized.

The end of the commodity boom, created a zero-sum situation, in which the center-left turned right and the capitalist class launched a new wave of class struggle from above.

As a result, the class struggle from below, much weakened, took a ‘defensive turn’ trying to secure the reforms achieved over the previous decade.

In other words, the social dynamics of the class struggle is deeply influenced by two key factors: the state of the economy (breakdown, stagnation) and the class nature of the political incumbents (neo-liberals, center left).

When rightwing neo-liberal regimes preside over economic breakdowns, the class struggle-from-below gains ascendancy.

When the economy goes into crisis under a center-left regime and the commodity boom ends leading to economic stagnation, class struggle-from-above gains force and the Right moves to take state power.

These tendencies are deeply influenced by the role and intervention of the US imperial state. By radicalizing the class struggle from above, the imperial state destabilizes center-left options and deepens the class struggle from below.

The weakening of the economy and the neoliberal compromises of the center-left results in the triangulation of the class struggle between the rising right, the retreating center, and the defensive left.

Throughout Latin America, the class struggle is a constant. As Karl Marx rightly observed, it is ‘the motor force of history’. But in each period, as we have seen in our case studies, the direction of ‘history’s’ movements is largely dependent on which class forces dominate.

The likelihood of a revival of intense class struggle from below is high, given the data recently published by the World Bank’s Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the WB report, the de-accerelation of the Latin American economies threatens to relegate over 40% of the population, back into poverty (208 million people) (La Jornada 7/9/15, p. 1).

This group which recently emerged from poverty is “vulnerable” because in large part its improvement was a result of the commodity boom – which has ended.

Downward mobility of this class may initially adversely affect the center-left, but it will likely move left when the right returns to power. Downwardly mobile middle classes ‘gyrate’, looking for salvation from whichever classes can stabilize their position and prevent their impoverishment.

Jul 082015
 

By Gökçe Sandal, 99GetSmart

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Istanbul’s LGBTI parade during ‘Pride Week 2015’ had earlier been declared unlawful by the Istanbul Governor, the reason being that Pride and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan coincided with each other. The Governor’s declaration outlawing Pride, combined with excessive police violence against the Pride-goers, added more flames to the already homophobic assessment of the mainstream pro-government media and resulted in boosting of prejudices and homophobia even further in the society.

The reason for the sudden ban was stated to be the parade’s coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan. This statement declares a division between the faithful, moral Muslims, and the members and/or supporters of the LGBTI groups, and defines the two camps as two naturally conflicting identities that cannot coexist. Therefore the statement strengthens the preconceived idea of these two identities as two distinct groups and leads to increased tensions between the two groups. The religious reasoning behind the ban has brought about discussions about the “people of Loot”, a tribe that in Islamic belief was wiped out by Allah due to their practice of homosexuality.

Only a week after the events that took place in Istanbul – the police intervention into Pride –, the Ankara-based ‘Young Islamic Defense’ group hung posters all over the capital, with the following Hadith passage: “Whoever you find doing the deed of the people of Loot, kill them.” This open call for massacre and hate crime is directly targeting the members of the LGBTI groups in Turkey, as the poster has a photo from the previous week’s parade in its background.

The group has also posted a manifestation on their website which declares the LGBTI members to be remnants of the Loot tribe that need to be destroyed, thus encouraging various kinds of hate crimes by justifying them on the grounds of religion.

Even though homosexuality is not conceived of as a crime in Turkey, it is not recognized, or even referred to, in the laws. In addition, general public awareness of and tolerance towards the LGBTI movement in Turkey is not very high. The state’s own interruption of the movement legitimizes these negative views held by the public and provides a freer environment for hate speech, while making LGBTI people all the more vulnerable to actions that may result from this atmosphere charged with hate and intolerance.

Jul 072015
 

By Michael Nevradakis in Athens with Greg Palast in New York, 99GetSmart

Greek journalist Michael Nevradakis and US investigative journalist Greg Palast have a different take on the Greek ‘No’ vote against Europe’s cruel austerity demands.

euro-and-Greece

We Greeks have voted ‘No’ to slavery – but ‘Yes’ to our chains.

Not surprisingly, by nearly two-to-one, Greeks have overwhelmingly rejected the cruel, economically bonkers “austerity” program required by the European Central Bank in return for an ECB loan to pay Greece’s creditors. In doing so, the Greek people overcame an unprecedented campaign of fear from the Greek and international media, the European Union (EU), and most of our political parties.

What’s simply whack-o is that, while voting “No” to austerity, many Greeks wish to remain shackled to the euro, the very cause of our miseries.

Resistance, not Crisis

Before we explain how the euro is the cause of this horror show, let’s clear up one thing right away. All week, worldwide media was filled with news of the Greek “crisis.” Yes, the economy stinks, with one in four Greeks unemployed. But two other euro nations, Spain and Cyprus, also are suffering this depression level of unemployment. Indeed, more than 11% of workers in seven euro nations, including Portugal and Italy, are out of work.

But unlike Greece, these other suffering nations have quietly acquiesced to their “austerity” punishments. Spaniards now accept that they are fated forevermore to be low-paid servants to beer-barfing British tourists. Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who has enacted a draconian protest ban at home to keep his own suffering masses at bay, has joined in the jackal-pack rejecting anything but the harshest of austerity terms for Greece.

The difference between these quiescent nations and Greece is that the Greeks won’t take it anymore.

What the media calls the Greek “crisis” is, in fact, resistance.

Resistance to nowhere

But it’s a resistance whose leaders are leading them nowhere.
For decades, Greeks have suffered governments that are both corrupt and dishonest. The election of SYRIZA changed all that: the government is now merely dishonest.

Our new SYRIZA Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, correctly called the austerity plan “blackmail.” However, before Sunday’s vote, Tsipras told the nation a big fat fib. He said we could vote down the European Bank’s plan but keep the European Bank’s coin, the euro. How? Tsipras won’t say; it’s part of a policy ploy his outgoing finance minister Yanis Varoufakis calls “creative ambiguity.” To translate: Creative ambiguity is Greek for “bullshit.”

Sorry, Alexis, if you want to use the Reich’s coin you have to accept the Reichsdiktat.

Not a coin, a virus

Tsipras’ claim that Greece can keep the euro while rejecting austerity is crazy-talk. The fact is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Cruella De Vil of the Eurozone, will ignore the cries of the bleeding Greeks and demand we swallow austerity–or lose the euro.

But, so what if we lose the euro? The best thing that can happen to Greece, and should have happened long, long ago, is that Greece flee the Eurozone.

That’s because it is the euro itself that is the virus responsible for Greece’s economic ills.

Indeed, the sadistic commitment to “austerity” was minted into the coin’s very metal. We’re not guessing. One of us (Palast, an economist by training) has had long talks with the acknowledged “father” of the euro, Professor Robert Mundell. It’s important to mention the other little bastard spawned by the late Prof. Mundell: “supply-side” economics, otherwise known as “Reaganomics,” “Thatcherism” – or, simply “voodoo” economics.

The imposition of the euro had one true goal: To end the European welfare state.

For Mundell and the politicians who seized on his currency concept, the euro itself would be the vector infecting the European body politic with supply-side Reaganomics. Mundell saw a euro’d Europe as free of trade unions and government regulations; a Europe in which the votes of parliaments were meaningless. Each Eurozone nation, unable to control neither the value of its own currency, nor its own budget, nor its own fiscal policy, could only compete for business by slashing regulations and taxes. Mundell said, “[The euro] puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians… Without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”

Here’s how it works. To join the Eurozone, nations must agree to keep their deficits to no more than 3% of GDP and total debt to no more than 60% of GDP. In a recession, that’s plain insane. By contrast, President Obama pulled the USA out of recession by increasing deficit spending to a staggering 9.8% of GDP, and he raised the nation’s debt to 101% from a pre-recession 62%. Republicans screamed, but it worked. The US has lower unemployment than any Eurozone nation.

As Obama scolded the European tormentors of Greece: “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression.” Cutting spending power only leads to less spending which leads to further cuts in spending power – a death spiral we see today in the Eurozone from Greece to Italy to Spain—but not in Germany.

“Not in Germany.” There’s the rub. Normally, a nation such as Greece can quickly recover from debt-induced recession by devaluing its currency. Greece would become a dirt cheap tourist destination once more and its lower-cost exports would zoom, instantly increasing competitiveness. And that’s what Germany can’t allow. Germany lured other European nations into the euro in order to keep them from undercutting Germany’s prices in export markets.

Restricted by the 3% deficit rule, the only recourse left for Eurozone debtors: pay the piper with “austerity” measures.

Tsipras in Wonderland

So therein lies the lie. Tsipras tells his fellow Greeks that we can live in a Looking Glass world, where we can have our euro and eat it too; that we can stay handcuffed to the euro but run free without austerity.

The nonsense continues: Following the announcement of the official results of the referendum on Sunday night, Tsipras tweeted that the Greek electorate voted for a “Europe of solidarity and democracy,” while the now-resigned finance minister Varoufakis tweeted that “Greece’s place in the Eurozone is non-negotiable,” claiming that he would not allow the “only alternative,” the old drachma trading alongside the euro.

SYRIZA’s euro-fetish was already evident in its pre-referendum proposals to the IMF and European Bank, a 47-page document which included 8 billion euros in new austerity measures plus a new round of sell-offs of state industries, the maintenance of a primary surplus of 1% this year which would increase in the coming years, the increase of the retirement age to 67, and making permanent the previously “temporary” taxes upon an already overtaxed populace. In Tsipras’ own proposal, there was no word of a debt write-down or stoppage of payments, despite the fact that the government’s own Debt Audit Commission announced on June 17 that the bulk of Greece’s debt is illegal, “odious,” and should not be paid.

Instead, Tsipras has come out in support of the IMF’s proposal for a mere 30% “debt haircut” and a 20-year grace period, effectively sweeping the problem under the rug. Greece is currently running a deficit, meaning that in order for the 1% surplus to be achieved, SYRIZA must cut, cut, cut. Exactly as Mundell and the supply-siders intended.

Death by “Reform”

Like Obama, Tsipras knows that cutting pensions, privatizing and closing industries, slashing wages – in other words, “austerity” — or, to use the latest jargon, “reform” – is not just cruel, it’s plain stupid: it can only push a nation in recession into depression.

That’s not just theory. The Troika (the European Central Bank, IMF and European Commission) first imposed their vicious austerity measures on Greece in 2010. Greeks watched their annual salaries plummet to half of a German’s paycheck. Greece’s supposedly generous pensions have been cut eight times during the crisis, while two-thirds of pensioners live below the poverty line. Everything from Greece’s airports to harbors, the national lottery to prime publicly-owned real estate was sold off, while schools and hospitals were shuttered.

And, for the first time since World War II, widespread starvation had returned. 500,000 children in Greece are said to be malnourished. Students fainting from hunger in frigid schools which cannot afford heating oil is now a common phenomenon.

This cruel “belt tightening,” the Troika promised, would restore Greece’s economy by 2012 (and then 2013, 2014, and 2015). In reality, unemployment went from a terrible 12.5% in 2010 to a horrendous 25.6% today.

Now, the Troika demands more of the same, a continuation of this disastrous policy.

Crashing into Africa?

Meanwhile, following the referendum result which made him a hero, finance minister Varoufakis resigned. Ironically, while Varoufakis rubbed German officials the wrong way with his unorthodox style, he, too, maintained the pro-euro myth. Previous austerity measures continued under his watch. To please the mad austerity masters, he said he would “squeeze blood from a stone” to repay the IMF—which he did in May, when all remaining funds in the Greek Treasury were rounded up by presidential decree to make that month’s IMF loan payment. Varoufakis was so wedded to the euro that he claimed that Greece would be unable to print its old currency, the drachma, because we destroyed our currency printing presses when we joined the euro. In fact, the government’s banknote printing facility in Athens still operates, printing the 10-euro note.

Meanwhile, our future flees. A quarter million university graduates have abandoned our nation. They have no choice: unemployment for those under 25 has hit 48.6%.

I know that many Greeks, Cypriots, Italians and Portuguese all express a visceral fear of leaving the euro. Depending on which polls one chooses to believe, anywhere from a near-majority to an overwhelming majority of Greeks wish to remain in the euro at all costs. From the hysterical statements I heard from some Greeks that, “We cannot leave Europe!”, you’d think that dropping the euro will cause Greece to break off at the Albanian border and crash into Africa.

It would be refreshing to hear political leaders say the honest economic truth: “Workers of Europe unite! You have nothing to lose but the euro—and your chains.”

***

Michael Nevradakis is host of Dialogos Radio in Athens.

The Greek edition of Greg Palast’s book, Vultures’ Picnic, will soon be released by Livanis Publishing.

 

Jul 062015
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart
Reporting from Athens

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It was November 2011 when I had the opportunity to meet Yanis Varoufakis in person, for the first and so far only time. Upon the invitation of his close friend and promoter James Galbraith, Varoufakis was visiting the University of Texas, where I was studying, to give a talk about the future of the Eurozone and to present his new book. As the host of what was then a locally-produced Greek radio program (Austin Hellenic Radio), I attended Varoufakis’ talk in order to try to get an interview with him on site. And indeed, I did. “Be quick though, eight other media outlets are waiting to speak with me,” Varoufakis told me.

This quote made an impression on me, but is quite indicative of Varoufakis’ personality. His “rock star” status in the world of “anti-austerity” economics was already beginning to be solidified. That same period, Varoufakis made appearances on CBS’ 60 Minutes, on NPR, and on a number of other media outlets across the world. One year later, Varoufakis would be back at the University of Texas, apparently on Galbraith’s invitation, as a visiting scholar. His annual salary of $100,000 (which can be seen through publicly-available records, as the University of Texas is a state university), was more than what many tenured professors earn at the same university. But despite his burgeoning celebrity status, little did I imagine that just a few years later, he would become the finance minister of a Greece which was even deeper in crisis.

Flash forward to Sunday night: the resounding “no” vote in Greece’s dubious referendum on whether or not to accept the already-rescinded proposals of the institutions formerly known as the troika was now official. For many in Greece and also in the global left, which continues to amaze with just how unaware of reality it really is, this “no” vote was the beginning of a new chapter for Greece, a victory for anti-austerity forces led by the darlings of the global left, SYRIZA, with prime minister Alexis Tsipras and finance minister Varoufakis at the helm. Yet, it did not take long for that bubble to burst—for those who were paying attention. Soon after the “no” result became official, Varoufakis tweeted that Greece’s place is firmly within the Eurozone, adding that he would not permit the alternative, a “parallel currency,” to be instituted. No word, of course, about the true alternative which has always been on the table: a return to a national currency. Varoufakis then described the “no” vote as a “majestic, big YES to a democratic, rational Europe,” Tsipras then followed this up with a similar tweet of his own, stating that the voters of Greece responded to the true question at hand in the referendum by stating that they want a Europe “of solidarity and democracy.” Surely that was the exact thing grandma, grandpa, and the unemployed were thinking while filling out their ballot.

The “no” vote led to celebrations in Syntagma Square and throughout Greece despite the deep divisions which exist within Greek society and which remained apparent in the lead-up to the referendum and in the results. Just one day later though, Varoufakis did what he does best: grabbed the headlines, announcing (via Twitter) that he was resigning as finance minister. The timing, while seemingly peculiar to some, couldn’t be better: Varoufakis is exiting the government as a hero, a “leftist” and “anti-austerity” darling who surely has a bright future to look forward to on the lecture circuit, as an author and analyst, and perhaps even with a corner office waiting for him somewhere in Washington or Brussels.

Varoufakis is escaping at just the right time, as a few hours later on Monday, Tsipras was given the “green light” by the leaders of all of the political parties represented in the Greek parliament, sans the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), to come to an agreement with the “institutions.” Tsipras and other SYRIZA officials have, again, stated their repeated intention to keep Greece within the Eurozone. Tsipras and others, including Varoufakis, have never acknowledged the findings of their own government’s “debt truth commission,” which found that most of Greece’s public debt is illegal and odious and the repayment of which would be a violation of the Greek people’s human rights. Tsipras, instead, has stated his intention to follow the recommendations of the “good cop” (the IMF) in merely requesting a “debt haircut” of 30% and a 20-year “grace period.” Following Varoufakis’ resignation, Tsipras was said to be considering a broader cabinet shake-up which would include more “centrist” elements that would then continue negotiations with the creditors.

In case it is still unclear, the writing on the wall is as follows: Tsipras and his government are going hard for a new agreement that will not be popular, and which will not be much different from the proposals which Greek voters said “no” to. A new agreement perhaps not markedly different from the 47-page proposal submitted by SYRIZA prior to the referendum being called, which included the implementation of a primary budget surplus of almost 1% beginning this year (even though Greece is currently in deficit and would therefore need to cut its way back to a surplus), dozens of privatizations in a program that would continue well past 2020, making permanent many previously “temporary” taxes which SYRIZA had declared unconstitutional prior to the elections, and pledges to honor Greece’s debt commitments. And this time around, whatever the proposal is, either on the part of the government or the “institutions,” the Greek people won’t be given the option to say “yay” or “nay.” Notably, with the “vote of support” Tsipras received today, he has the backing of the same pro-austerity political forces—New Democracy, PASOK, To Potami, and the far-right Golden Dawn—which, until yesterday, were urging the Greek public to vote “yes.”

Varoufakis, in other words, is escaping the oncoming train wreck, and with good reason. But does that make him a hero? Anything but. Varoufakis is a master of rhetoric and doublespeak, a man who knows exactly how to tailor his message for the audience he is addressing, saying one thing to his “partners” in the IMF and in Brussels, and something different to the Greek people shaking his hand and patting him on the back on the street in Athens. Despite his carefully-crafted public image, however, there is much evidence which belies Varoufakis’ true intentions:

  • Soon after assuming the post of finance minister, Varoufakis proposed towards his partners in the Eurogroup the continuation of 70 percent of the previously-existing (and illegal) austerity measures, enacted by the unelected government of technocrat Loukas Papademos in February 2012 amidst tremendous popular protest and police violence.

  • When even the continuation of almost three-fourths of the austerity measures proved to be insufficient for the troika, Varoufakis capitulated, agreeing to continue all of the existing agreements “temporarily” (for an additional four months). He then returned to Greece and told the Greek people that this agreement consisted of “creative ambiguity.”

  • In an interview with the Associated Press in early March, Varoufakis flatly stated that he would “squeeze blood from a stone” to repay the IMF, which holds views that he “personally agrees with.”

  • Varoufakis ended up being true to his word: in late April, the Greek government issued a presidential decree (a practice which it had pledged prior to the elections that it would not continue) to essentially confiscate all remaining funds in the Greek Treasury, including pension, health, and education funds. These funds were then used to make the IMF May loan repayment.

  • In May, Varoufakis, along with economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis and then-lead negotiator Euclid Tsakalotos (who is now Varoufakis’ replacement as Finance Minister) hand-picked former World Bank employee Elena Panaritis as Greece’s new representative to the IMF. Panaritis’ impressive CV boasts of her accomplishments in pushing forth hundreds of privatizations in Peru and other Latin American countries, while she is perhaps best known for her role in promoting policies which became known as “Fujishock,” named after the now-jailed (on charges of murder and human rights violations) ex-president of Peru Alberto Fujimori. Panaritis is a former MP with PASOK, who has stated that she is “American, not Greek, and who voted in favor of the memorandum (austerity) agreements. Due to popular outcry, including from voices within SYRIZA, Panaritis eventually withdrew from her new post as IMF representative.

  • Prior to the July 5 referendum, Varoufakis kept stating his intention to “restructure” Greece’s debt, even though his government’s own “debt truth commission” found that the debt is illegal and odious. Varoufakis has not acknowledged this finding, talking only of a “restructuring.”

  • Varoufakis flat-out lied, in a radio interview on ABC Australia, claiming that Greece could not print drachmas even if it wanted to, that they were destroyed in the year 2000, the year before Greece joined the Eurozone. In actually, Greece joined in 2002, and to this day maintains an ultra-modern banknote printing facility in the Athens suburb of Holargos, one of six such facilities in the Eurozone, which is used to print 10 euro notes, and occasionally other denominations. Even if Greece did not have such a facility though, it could follow the example of dozens of other countries and simply outsource its banknote printing to outside firms, based in Switzerland and elsewhere.

  • Varoufakis, prior to the January elections, had his new book presented at the Athens Music Hall by television talking head Mbambis Papadimitriou of Sky TV. Papadimitriou is perhaps best known for stating his views that the previous New Democracy government should not discount a future governing coalition with a “serious” Golden Dawn, while Sky TV, in a sea of pro-austerity media outlets, waved the “yes” flag higher than most, providing exactly zero minutes and zero seconds of televised coverage of the demonstrations in favor of voting “no.”

  • Varoufakis, early in his tenure as Finance Minister, spoke of the need for the Greek people to lead an “austere existence.” He and his wife Danae Stratou then posed for a remarkably obnoxious photo shoot at their Athens penthouse, with a view of the Acropolis, for gossip magazine Paris Match.

  • Varoufakis has repeatedly repeated mythology about the crisis and the Greek people which is untrue: that “hard-working” European taxpayers are supporting Greece (when in fact, their money is being loaned, profitably, to Greece), while referencing the myth that Greece has the highest percentage of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world, a claim which has been debunked but which remains remarkably persistent to this day.

  • Varoufakis has stated that his homeland is Europe, not Greece, and that he would like to see the formation of a “United States of Europe.”

  • Varoufakis has repeatedly claimed, falsely, that no country has ever not repaid the IMF. He has also stated that he prefers a “European solution” to Greece’s crisis, instead of following the example of countries such as Argentina.

As pointed out by analyst Wayne Madsen, Varoufakis has also been employed as an “economist-in-residence” for the Valve Corporation, closely linked to Microsoft and Bill Gates. He served for six years as an economic adviser to former Greek prime minister George Papandreou, who later dragged Greece under troika supervision after first ensuring that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were falsified (worsened) in order to provide the economic and political impetus for Greece to be dragged under troika oversight. The foreword to one of Varoufakis’ books, “A Modest Proposal,” was written by former French prime minister Michae Rocard, who has called for current European Parliament president Martin Schulz to be apppinted as European “strongman” and who has repeatedly warned SYRIZA to abide by the current austerity agreements.

It is clear that Varoufakis is not a hero or a man of integrity. If anyone is heroic, it is the majority of Greek voters, who in the face of an unprecedented media and political terror campaign, voted “no” to the European creditors’ proposals, even if the referendum itself is dubious in nature. Despite this though, Varoufakis and SYRIZA are receiving heroic treatment, proving once again how easily people are swayed and how easily they are satisfied by words, instead of by concrete actions. Greek voters may have courageously voted “no” to the proposals of the troika, but the ball remains in their court: will they keep up their resistance, or will they accept a SYRIZA capitulation and continue giving a hero’s welcome to a government which has sold them out?

Jul 052015
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart
Reporting from Athens

Photo by Marios Lolos

Photo by Marios Lolos

With early returns from the referendum coming in, it is clear that a vote of “no” to the austerity measures proposed by the institutions formerly known as the troika will prevail, with a clear majority that will likely surpass 60%. As I write this, the sky is falling on Greece, the sea is drying up, day has become night, trees and flowers and kittens are dying, bullets and missiles are flying, and Greece is feeling the angry wrath of the gods for defying the will of the creditors, the mass media, and the troika.

At least, that’s what the mass media would have had us believe, with their dire warnings as to what a “no” vote would bring for Greece and with their utterly disgraceful coverage of events in Greece over the past two weeks. In reality, as I am writing this, I am sitting on a park bench in an ordinary neighborhood of Athens. It is a beautiful Greek summer evening, there is a light breeze, young people, families, and the elderly are walking about, and there is no sign of anything but life continuing on as normal. A couple of miles away, in Syntagma Square, more Greeks are congregating to celebrate the “no” victory in today’s referendum.

In my previous piece, I strongly questioned the timing of this referendum and the question being posed to the Greek voters, as well as the SYRIZA-led government’s actions throughout its five-plus months in office and in the days leading up to today’s poll. Those criticisms and questions remain. Nevertheless, amidst a climate of pure media and political terrorism, blackmail, and manipulation, Greek voters resoundingly said no to the proposals put forth by the institutions. This, in itself, is a major milestone for Greece and for the Greek people.

Today’s result is not a victory for the government, whose actions continue to betray its pre-election promises and electoral platform, and whose referendum was held under the worst possible circumstances: with banks shuttered, with capital controls enforced, with an out-of-control media freely terrorizing the public, and in the middle of the country’s tourist season. The result is, however, a victory against the scaremongering of the media, of the European institutions, and of Greece’s completely discredited political class, namely the previously establishment political parties (New Democracy and PASOK) and their media-supported allies (To Potami).

The media coverage seen in the previous days, both from Greek and international outlets, is nothing short of disgraceful; a hatchet job against Greece and its people. The Guardian, which remains for some absurd reason a well-regarded publication in Greece despite years of inaccurate and sensationalistic articles about Greece, warned its readers that shelves in Greek supermarkets are barren, that the tourist resorts of Mykonos and Santorini are facing “food shortages,” that gas stations are out of fuel, and that every single ATM in Athens had throngs of people queuing up to withdraw their funds. One visit to travel forums on the Internet, such as TripAdvisor, shows hundreds upon hundreds of postings from prospective visitors to Greece, who have been influenced by this absurd media coverage and who are second-guessing their upcoming holidays in Greece.

The clear bias in favor of “yes” was apparent in the writings and also in the tweets of numerous correspondents based in Greece, whose coverage all throughout the crisis has been nothing short of disgraceful. Some such correspondents, such as Yannis Koutsomitis, could not hide the fact that they voted “yes” in today’s referendum, just as they have been unable to conceal their staunchly pro-austerity views, despite all evidence as to how destructive these policies have been and continue to be. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the BBC warned their audiences about the impending chaos that would be arriving in Greece in the event of a “no” vote, while making sure to warn the audience about the perils that a “grexit” would bring to Greece, connecting the referendum with the issue of whether or not Greece will remain in the Eurozone. Such biased “reporting” is irresponsible and, indeed, criminal and it is a tremendous shame that these “journalists” have such a large audience, including tens of thousands of Twitter followers, to spread their misinformation.

Today’s vote is a response not just to this media terrorism, but to all those around the world who have fallen victim to such media coverage: the clearly ignorant and uniformed and the racist, who continue to fall back on completely untrue and discredited stereotypes that Greeks don’t work hard, don’t pay taxes, retire at age 50, and have been living off of free money provided by “hard-working European taxpayers” (similar to statements, incidentally, also made by celebrity finance minister Varoufakis in the early days of the SYRIZA-led government). Successive Greek governments, including the current coalition, have done nothing to attempt to reverse Greece’s image abroad or to correct the numerous racist and ignorant stereotypes which exist about the Greek people and which continue to be perpetuated by numerous media outlets.

Today’s vote is also a victory against the domestic media system, the oligarch-owned television and radio stations, newspapers and Internet portals, which provided almost wall-to-wall coverage in favor of voting “yes,” in favor of more austerity and further capitulation to the EU. The same media outlets which, despite SYRIZA’s empty rhetoric (something which it is great at), are still allowed free rein to do and say as they please, facts and objectivity be damned. Greek voters overcame this non-stop propaganda campaign not due to the “radical” government that is in office, but because many Greeks finally have had enough and have shut these media outlets out of their lives.

Despite this, 40 percent of voters—four in ten, in other words—said “yes” to Europe, “yes” to more austerity, more cuts, lowered pensions, more privatizations, a continued “brain drain” out of the country. This is hardly a surprise, unfortunately. It is reflective of the deep divisions which exist in Greek society, and a longstanding inferiority complex held by many Greeks that Greece is worthless without being a part of the “civilized West,” which they define as the Eurozone, NATO, and the European Union. It is reflective of the divide-and-conquer efforts of much of Greece’s political class and by the media, where public servants have been pitted against employees of privately-owned corporations and businesses, the latter of whom were among the strongest proponents of “staying in Europe” and voting “yes” while blaming the public sector for each and every one of the country’s ills.

The commonly-heard argument is that without Europe, Greece has no future, Greek children have no future, that the country will be “internationally isolated.” The irony of the “yes” supporters is that they are the ones who, quite typically, are critical of the patronage state and the perceived corruption in Greece, but who then vote for the same parties which perpetuated this system and this corruption for four decades. One also has to wonder what sort of future the children of Norway, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Iceland have and how these countries are managing to cope with the apparent “isolation” they must be experiencing, as they are neither members of the Eurozone nor the European Union.

In the days leading up to the referendum, the media and political machine did its very best to convince the world that “yes” would prevail, that the Greek people “wanted to remain in Europe” (where would Greece go? Africa? Antarctica? Mars?). A media manipulation playbook, prepared on behalf of New Democracy, was leaked to the public, explaining just how the message in favor of “yes” would be propagandized to the masses, while stating that any polls showing even a small “no” lead (of up to five percentage points) would be spun into showing a narrow margin in favor of “yes.” This was followed up by the exit polls which were announced moments after the polls closed at 7 pm in Greece, showing, at best, a narrow margin of victory for “no” and leaving open the possibility of a narrow “yes” majority.

The true results, however, show a clear majority in favor of “no,” once again discrediting the polling firms, whose pre-election opinion surveys and exit polls were laughably off the mark in 2010, in 2012, in 2014, and again prior to the elections of this past January. These polling firms (who receive funding from the state apparatus and whose polls are not independently conducted, but instead conducted on behalf of the same pro-austerity and/or pro-government media outlets) and their results (including their repeated “findings” that 70-80% of Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone at all costs) should never be trusted again, or referenced by anyone who cares about facts or reality.

Despite the celebrations though, the true test as to how much the people of Greece have actually “stood up” to the austerity regime will take place in the coming days, and not with the “no” victory today. Because if the “radical” SYRIZA government dares to come back with its own proposals for further austerity, primary surpluses and privatizations (47 page proposal, measures totaling 8 billion euros, etc.) and those who voted “no” today accept this and treat SYRIZA as heroes, then it will be evident that there is no true resistance and that nothing has changed.

The real referendum,, in other words, will follow in the coming days.

Jul 042015
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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It was just four months ago, though it already seems like a lifetime away, when Greece’s celebrity finance minister Yanis Varoufakis publicly stated that “creative ambiguity” won the country a “loan lifeline” from the institutions formerly known as the troika: the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund. Despite the never-ending soap opera that is Greek crisis politics though, few would have imagined that the SYRIZA-led coalition government would succeed in outdoing itself in terms of its “creative ambiguity,” by calling a referendum which, just days before the polls open, remains remarkably unclear as to its actual meaning and potential consequences.

Setting The Stage for the Referendum

What has been actually happening in Greece though, over the past week? Lots has been heard in the Greek and international media, much of it tainted by either a pro-austerity or pro-SYRIZA bias and a generous dose of sensationalism. Cutting through all of this media-created noise, the realities are as follows: in a peculiarly-timed nationally-televised address which aired live a minute after midnight on June 27, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras announced to the nation that a referendum would be held on whether or not to approve the set of proposals put forth by the “institutions.” The last referendum held in Greece was in 1974, just after Greece’s Western-backed military regime fell, when Greeks overwhelmingly voted “no” for the restoration of the monarchy. This announcement was initially hailed by a majority of the public, as it was seen as a bold step towards giving the Greek people a direct say in the country’s affairs for the first time during the five-plus years of financial crisis.

It quickly became clear, however, that the referendum was not as straightforward as it initially seemed. Just what were the Greek people being called upon to approve or disapprove? Though a lot has been heard in the Greek media about the demands of the “institutions,” these media reports have overwhelmingly been cast through a vehemently pro-austerity filter. The government posted the full, translated text of the proposals on the Internet as well as Sunday’s ballot, but even today, almost half of Greek households do not have Internet access, particularly older generations which happen to have the highest percentage of voter participation (and which are also the heaviest television viewers). Only days before the referendum, the consequences of a “no” vote also remain equally muddled on the part of the government: how will a SYRIZA-led government interpret it and what will its actions be should this be the outcome of the referendum?

So far, the only thing that has been heard from the SYRIZA-led government is that a “no” vote would “strengthen” the government’s “negotiating position.” On Friday, Varoufakis stated that if “no” prevails in the referendum, the government has received “some very decent proposals” from “official Europe,” adding that “a deal is more or less done,” without going into any additional detail about what this supposed deal entails. Varoufakis added that if “yes” ultimately prevails on July 5th, that the government will sign off on the proposals presented by the “institutions”—just days after he and Tsipras strongly indicated that they would resign in the event of a “yes” vote. Notably, the Greek people will not be asked to vote upon any of the other proposals that are apparently on the table, either from “official Europe” or on the part of SYRIZA. In an interview on Australia’s ABC, Varoufakis outright lied, claiming that Greece does not have the capacity to print drachmas. In fact, Greece possesses a state-of-the-art printing facility for banknotes, one of six such facilities in the Eurozone.

In the meantime, two days after calling a referendum, and after allowing sufficient panic to set in, the Greek government decided to impose capital controls, declaring a week-long bank holiday and imposing a daily withdrawal limit of €60 per account, per day, for all Greek bank accounts). Public officials who were to be paid on the 27th and 28th of the month were obliged to queue up at specific bank branches, opened exclusively for them, to withdraw a maximum of €120 from their paychecks. Following this, the ECB embargoed Greece, while the SYRIZA-led government did not enact any measures whatsoever to calm down a jittery populace, including pensioners, who were suddenly left with limited access to cash. Instead, the government offered additional guarantees of €4.92 billion to the National Bank of Greece and €1.91 billion to Eurobank, two banks which have already been heavily recapitalized with taxpayer funds during the crisis. Essentially, the government acted to protect bankrupted banks that have remained afloat with public support, but took absolutely no measures to assuage the nerves of the populace or to protect salaries or pensions.

The SYRIZA-led government, in other words, far from undertaking a “heroic” and “brave” decision in giving Greek voters a say, have instead hastily organized a rather unclear referendum under the worst possible circumstances: with banks shuttered and capital controls imposed. This has given fuel to Greece’s oligarch-owned, pro-austerity media, who have successfully transformed the public debate into a dilemma between voting “yes” to “stay in Europe” and maintain Greece’s “European prospect,” and voting “no” and bringing “catastrophe” and “chaos” to Greece in the form of a “grexit.” In essence, the referendum has been transformed into a yes-or-no vote on staying within the Eurozone or departing, even though SYRIZA continues to maintain, at every opportunity, that it refuses to consider a grexit and that will keep Greece within the Eurozone and the European Union.

Adding to the confusion and contributing to the uneasiness in Greece, various members of the SYRIZA-led government, including Giannis Dragasakis, the government’s vice-president, suggested earlier in the week that the referendum might be withdrawn, before rescinding his statement. It was then reported by the media that Tsipras submitted a new proposal to the “institutions,” a proposal which aimed to settle Greece’s funding from the supra-national European Stability Mechanism in order for Greece’s debt to become “sustainable” while giving emphasis to the “growth perspective.” This proposal would essentially mean that Greek taxpayers would repay the IMF loans with ESM money that would be loaned to Greece at double the interest rate.

This latest proposal, in essence, conceeded on almost all points to the “institutions.” It included the acceptance of a new retirement age of 67, the implementation of which would merely be delayed until October (as if that would make any real difference). It includes significant reductions in Greek military spending, on the order of €200 million in 2016 and €400 million in 2017, at a time when the military is already suffering from shortages of fuel and supplies in an increasingly unstable Eastern Mediterranean. The new proposal also makes mention of a “new framework” for labor markets that would be legislated in the autumn, and accepts recommendations from the OECD’s “toolkit 1″ on “liberalizing” the marketplace. On Friday, this proposal was followed up by a new request by Tsipras, asking for a debt reduction of 30% and a 20 year grace period, as per the IMF’s recommendations.

SYRIZA’s Proposals and the “Debt Truth” Commission

SYRIZA’s “creative ambiguity” is unfortunately not limited just to the referendum which has been declared. In Greece, “kolotoumba” is the word colloquially used to refer to political “flip-flops” or promises that have been reneged upon, and in its five-plus months in power, SYRIZA has gone away from practically all of its key pre-election promises and the proposals of its Thessaloniki policy programme, presented in September 2014. During the first round of Greek negotiations with the “institutions” in February, Varoufakis’ initial offer was for the continuation of 70% of the previously-existing austerity measures from the second memorandum, agreed upon by an unelected, technocrat-led government in February 2012. Even the mere possibility of “grexit” was never placed on a table, nor was a debt reduction, write-off, or stoppage of payments.

That same month, SYRIZA proposed and then proceeded to elect a corrupt conservative former government minister, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, hailing from the New Democracy party, as President of the Hellenic Republic. Pavlopoulos, from 2012 on, had voted in favor of all austerity legislation and has repeatedly stated his pro-euro views, claiming that he will not sign off on a “grexit” as president. The February Eurogroup agreement, which resulted from the aforementioned “creative ambiguity” and extended the so-called “bailout” towards Greece for another four months, was then followed by a series of other broken promises on the part of the government: the restoration of the minimum wage to pre-crisis levels was postponed indefinitely, the levying of the unified property tax (ENFIA), which prior to the elections had been declared “unconstitutional” and “illegal” by SYRIZA, was not only continued, but taxpayers were told that it was their “patriotic duty” to continue paying this previously “temporary” tax. Funds for education, health, housing, and other social services were not restored, despite promises to the contrary, while another series of pre-election pledges, concerning the privatization program, was also violated: not only were the privatizations that had been enforced by previous governments not reversed, but new privatizations were proposed by SYRIZA, including that of the port of Piraeus (Europe’s largest port), the port of Thessaloniki (Greece’s second-largest port), and 14 regional airports of strategic and tourist significance. Indeed, a government delegation traveled to China to discuss the sale of the port of Piraeus and other strategic assets, including railroad lines, to Chinese-owned Cosco, which already owns the Piraeus container port under a previous privatization deal.

The “kolotoumbes” do not stop here, however. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos of the supposedly anti-austerity Independent Greeks political party, which is SYRIZA’s minority partner in the governmental coalition, announced his proposal for a NATO base to be developed on the southern Aegean island of Karpathos. Additionally, the government refused to file charges against a long list of former government ministers and public officials, including the current president of the Bank of Greece and former finance minister Yannis Stournaras, for their actions in imposing the austerity regime upon Greece. More egregiously still, the SYRIZA-led government, after promising prior to the elections to discontinue the practice of legislating by presidential decree (a favored method of the previous New Democracy-PASOK coalition), issued such a decree on April 24 to confiscate the funds available in the Greek Treasury, including the funds of public institutions including public hospitals and the national health service, as well as pension and insurance funds. These confiscated funds were then used to repay the country’s May installment towards the IMF.

Throughout SYRIZA’s five-plus months in office, Varoufakis, Tsipras, and numerous other government ministers and officials have repeatedly stated their intention to repay the country’s debt, including obligations towards the IMF and ECB, in full and to the last penny. In March, Varoufakis, in an interview with the Associated Press, flatly stated that he would “squeeze blood from a stone” in order to repay the IMF, which holds views with which he personally agrees with, while falsely claiming that no country has ever reneged on its payments to the IMF. Once again, government ministers stated that this action was in the “patriotic interest” of the country.

The aforementioned actions set the stage for the latest round of “negotiations” between the Greek government and the “institutions,” negotiations which led to a 47-page proposal submitted by SYRIZA, encompassing austerity measures totaling €8 billion euros. These proposals include the continuation of dozens of privatizations, scheduled all the way past 2020, the maintenance of a primary budget surplus of 1% this year and increasing primary surpluses in the coming years, in order to appease creditors, the maintenance of previously “temporary” taxes including the ENFIA, and agreeing to fulfill the country’s debt obligations, with no mention of a write-down, stoppage of payments, or reduction in the debt level. In light of the fact that Greece finds itself running a small deficit this year, the maintenance of a primary surplus within 2015 would inevitably result in more cuts in order to meet SYRIZA’s own proposed “targets,” while the maintenance of a primary surplus or an economy which has shrunk by 25% over five years equates with making permanent an austerity regime which has strangled the marketplace and Greek households.

Even these proposals, however, were not enough for the “institutions”—and for good reason. While these “institutions” have not budged in their positions since SYRIZA came to power in January, they have seen the “radical leftist” government of Greece enter the initial February negotiations proposing continuation of almost three-fourths of the existing austerity measures, and have seen SYRIZA inch ever closer to full capitulation since then, as demonstrated by the 47-page proposal submitted most recently by SYRIZA. Under such circumstances, why would the “institutions” and the German government agree to anything less than their full demands, seeing that SYRIZA is coming ever close to a full surrender?

Notably, as this latest round of “negotiations” has taken place, the Greek parliament convened a “debt truth” commission to audit the entirety of Greece’s public debt. The final report issued by the commission on June 17 found that Greece is not only unable to pay the debt, but it is not obligated to, as the bulk of the debt is illegal, illegitimate, odious, while the repayment of said debt would contravene the basic human rights of the people of Greece. Despite these findings, however, the government has not demanded the cancellation of the majority of the public debt as part of its “negotiations,” nor has it called a referendum on this issue, in which the Greek people would be asked if they wish to repay this debt. Instead, as mentioned previously, Tsipras has publicly repeated the IMF’s proposals for a 30% reduction of the debt and a 20 year “grace period,” essentially attempting to sweep the problem under the rug for the next generation, and some other future political regime.

This “truth” commission also heard testimony from former members of Greece’s Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), who since 2011 have been publicly making allegations, backed up by a significant amount of evidence, that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were falsified in late 2009 and in 2010 in order to appear worse than they actually were, thus providing the political and economic impetus to drag Greece under the supervision of the troika. It has also been shown that former prime minister George Papandreou had met with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-head of the IMF, prior to the 2009 Greek elections which brought Papandrou to power, amidst promises that “we have money.” These allegations led to criminal charges being filed against the president of ELSTAT, former IMF official Andreas Georgiou, in early 2013, charges which are still pending as of today. SYRIZA, instead of taking action against Georgiou, has allowed him to remain in his position as president of the statistical authority.

Wall-to-Wall Pro-Austerity Propaganda

The “creative ambiguity” of the referendum and the government’s evident weaknesses have fueled the pro-austerity, pro-”yes” fire, both on the part of Greece’s establishment opposition parties, as well as the overwhelming majority of the Greek and international media. Every single politician from the previous regimes which governed Greece, including former prime ministers Antonis Samaras, Kostas Simitis, and Kostas Karamanlis (who spoke publicly for the first time since November 2009) have expressed a strong position in favor of voting “yes” in the upcoming referendum. Former television personality Stavros Theodorakis of the upstart To Potami political party has also not been shy in expressing a pro-yes, pro-austerity, and vehemently pro-German viewpoint, while the party is the beneficiary of copious amounts of free airtime on the same television stations which Theodorakis once worked for, while other new political parties are completely shut out of the media. Even the supposedly “patriotic” far-right Golden Dawn party, through its leader Nikos Mihaloliakos, has stated a clear position in favor of the euro, claiming (falsely) that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” and “cannot afford” to leave the Eurozone and the EU.

Even the governing coalition has not been free of voices which have spoken outright in favor of voting “yes” or who have asked for the referendum to be withdrawn, with four members of the minority coalition partner Independent Greeks expressing such views in recent days, leading to the removal of one of these members from his parliamentary position. In essence, this means that the already-flimsy governing coalition has been further weakened.

On top of this, one of Greece’s largest labor unions, the GSEE, publicly called for the referendum to be withdrawn, while the Greek Chamber of Commerce (SEB) called for a vote of “yes.” The aforementioned two organizations, as well as many other purportedly pro-worker labor unions, are viewed by many Greeks as being closely connected to the country’s party structure, essentially forming part of the so-called “deep state.” Numerous actors, celebrities, university professors (that are typically beneficiaries of EU-sponsored funding and grants) and prominent personalities have also chimed in as part of the “yes” chorus. Additionally, many employers and managers in the private and public sector have warned their employees that they will not be paid their salaries unless they vote “yes” or participate in demonstrations in favor of a “yes” vote.

However, the real damage is being done on the part of Greece’s corrupt and oligarch-owned media outlets, as well as by international news organizations through their reporters and correspondents on the ground in Greece. Prior to the January elections, SYRIZA and several of its prominent officials promised to crack down on the country’s oligarchy once in office. Its actions though, upon coming to office, suggest otherwise. On June 11, the two-year anniversary of its shutdown by the previous government, SYRIZA reopened national public broadcaster ERT, amidst great fanfare. However, what was not said was that ERT was reopened based on the law which had initially established its replacement, NERIT. Not all former employees were rehired, while the popular protest programming which had aired during the two prior years that ERT had been operated as a “pirate” station by its workers, was wiped from the schedule. Since its relaunch, ERT has essentially operated as a press wing of the SYRIZA government (which already owns a growing nationwide network of party-owned radio stations and its own nationally-circulating newspaper, Avgi). Tsipras is given unlimited airtime on ERT and is faced only with softball questions by its reporters, while ERT’s social media accounts reflect a clear pro-government slant. Furthermore, after ERT’s relaunch, the government announced its intention to sign a new contract with a private consortium known as DIGEA (jointly owned by the same oligarchs which own Greece’s six largest private television stations) for the digital transmission of ERT’s television signals throughout Greece, albeit “temporarily.”

In the meantime, the government’s rhetoric against the media oligarchs has been limited to a PR stunt in demanding that the stations pay for the usage of public frequencies (they have still not done so), and suggestions that a new licensing bid for these stations (which are still unlicensed) will be declared, a proposal which however calls for a smaller number of TV stations to operate and the auctioning off of this reduced number of frequencies (indeed this was included in SYRIZA’s 47-page proposal). The combination of auctioning the frequencies and making fewer of them available will inevitably drive up their price and mean that only the oligarchs and their ilk can afford them. And as all this has taken place, the SYRIZA government was reportedly prepared to renew the long-expired terms of the National Radio-Television Council (NCRTV)), the country’s “independent” broadcast regulator, despite the fact that this practice of continued renewals has repeatedly been deemed unconstitutional by the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court. The three members of the NCRTV finally resigned on their own accord, and in response, SYRIZA has allowed the NCRTV to operate, unconstitutionally, with four members instead of seven. The new, “temporary” president of the NCRTV is Lina Alexiou, the mother of SYRIZA MP and speaker of the parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou.

This muddled media situation has perfectly set the stage for the unprecedented media terrorism campaign that has followed over the past week. The newscasts and talk programs of all major private television stations in Greece and their associated media outlets (radio stations, newspapers, etc.) have provided far more coverage of the “yes” position compared to the “no” position, while this coverage has been accompanied by headlines and on-air proclamations which are clearly designed to terrorize the public into voting for more austerity. In a recent analysis of the main evening television newscasts and their coverage of successive “pro-no” and “pro-yes” demonstrations in Athens, it was found that the “pro-no” coverage across these stations totaled just eight minutes, while the corresponding “pro-yes” coverage received over 46 minutes of airtime. One station, Mega Channel, featured statements and sound bites from 36 different individuals in favor of “yes” and zero in favor of “no” in one of its newscasts. One other station, the self-proclaimed “reputable” and “non-sensational” Sky TV, offered zero minutes of “pro-no” coverage and over eight minutes of “pro-yes” coverage on its newscasts over a two-day period. This coverage has included absurd on-air headlines which have compared, for instance, “pro-no” voting booths that have sprung up, to the political situation of North Korea, while warning of (non-existent) “shortages” at supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations and dire warnings of impending catastrophe. One Mega Channel newscast used images from South Africa in 2012 of an elderly woman protecting another elderly woman using an ATM, as if it had taken place in Greece today, while the newspaper Star Press used an image of an elderly individual from Turkey holding loaves of bread in his hands following a catastrophic earthquake in 2011, as if the individual in question was in Greece and was hoarding bread in response to the referendum. Newspaper headlines have spread fear of a “haircut” on bank deposits, of shortages of basic goods, and of pensions which are “in danger,” as well as dire warnings of the “catastrophe” that a grexit would bring, with grexit being equated with a “no” vote.

None of this should come as a surprise in light of the fact that almost the entirety of Greece’s national media outlets are owned by a small cabal of oligarchs, with extensive interests all across the economic spectrum, from shipping and oil refineries to insurance companies and publishing houses. Indeed, Greece’s former representative to the IMF, Panagiotis Roumeliotis, admitted in recent testimony before the “debt truth” commission that numerous Greek journalists had attended IMF-sponsored “seminars,” where they were coached on how to provide reporting with a pro-euro, pro-austerity tilt.

The international media, through its coverage and its reporters and correspondents on location in Greece, has been equally terrible. The usage of the word “bailout” to describe the austerity program and loans which successive Greek governments have implemented has become systematic, lending a positive aura to such policies. Most reports, and most reporters (particularly through their Twitter accounts) have not hidden their pro-austerity and/or pro-SYRIZA biases. Channel 4′s Paul Mason, whose coverage has been strongly pro-SYRIZA, has written the foreword for Varoufakis’ recent book. Another correspondent, Simon Nixon, brazenly tweeted that Varoufakis has made “leftist history” by turning the “fastest growing Eurozone country” into a “basket case” that has “defaulted” to the IMF. One New York Times headline stated “If Greece defaults, imagine Argentina, but much worse.” CNN featured a “default countdown” in its live coverage from Greece, while most international media outlets have painted a completely untrue picture of Greece as a country that has been thrust into turmoil, chaos, and violence, with endless lines at dried-up ATMs, an infrastructure that is not operating, stranded tourists, and violence and protests in the streets, none of which is true.

The reality is that the situation has remained largely calm in Greece, queues at ATMs are usually small or non-existent, most ATMs are still being regularly topped up with more cash, while “capital controls” do not apply to tourists and anyone using non-Greek ATM cards in Greece. Debit and credit cards continue to be accepted as usual, airplanes and ferry boats and trains and buses are operating as scheduled, and there has been no reported violence of any kind. But, as the saying goes, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. This highly sensationalistic and false coverage of Greece has done significant damage to Greece in the midst of its money-making tourist season.

One of the favorite punching bags of the international press corps in Greece have been Greece’s purportedly “generous” pensions and retirement system, with a number of highly-followed correspondents and journalists essentially cheerleading in favor of cuts to pensions. What they have not said is that over the years of the crisis, the Greek retirement age has been successively increased to age 65 for men and 60 for women, that SYRIZA itself has proposed a new increase to the age of 67, and that the troika has cut Greek pensions eight times in the past four years. Indeed, most pensions have been slashed in half since 2012, 45% of Greek pensioners receive less than €665 per month (below the poverty line), while one-third of pensioners receive approximately €360 euros per month. The pension fund itself was depleted following SYRIZA’s presidential decree, which emptied public coffers to make the May IMF payment.

Both Greek and international media outlets also repeatedly reference the results of public opinion polls conducted by major Greek polling firms. These surveys show an apparently overwhelming majority in favor of both the government (SYRIZA is said to be 20 points ahead in the polls) as well as, counterintuively, in favor (70-80%) of remaining in the euro…at all costs. What is never mentioned by either the Greek or international media outlets, however, is that public opinion surveys conducted by Greek polling firms are neither independent nor objective. The polls themselves are conducted on behalf of media outlets which are pro-austerity and/or pro-SYRIZA (including the SYRIZA-owned Avgi newspaper), while the polling firms themselves are the recipients of generous government funding, and therefore have an incentive to portray favorably the government of the day.

The media has systematically ignored and buried coverage of polls conducted within Greece by reputable non-Greek firms such as Gallup International, whose pan-European end-of-year survey in December found that 52% of respondents in Greece favor a return to a domestic currency, or Bridging Europe, whose March 2015 poll in Greece similarly found a 53% majority in favor of leaving the euro, and whose most recent poll found that 63% of Greeks are not afraid of grexit. Instead, the international media and even left-wing media outlets and scholars ranging from Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali, have repeated the myth that a large majority of Greeks want to remain in the Eurozone. Similarly, these media outlets have largely ignored the findings of the “debt truth” commission and have completely ignored the aforementioned ELSTAT allegations.

Similarly, media mythology that the “spendthrift” Greeks lived beyond their means or that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” has not been dispelled by Greece’s media, nor by the journalists and correspondents covering Greece for international outlets, despite the existence of clear facts to the contrary: Greece had, and continues to have, among the very lowest levels of private indebtedness in the entire European Union, lower still than the “fiscally responsible” Northern European countries. Furthermore, annual reports by the Pan-Hellenic Confederation of Unions of Agricultural Co-operatives (PASEGES) show that Greece produces enough of most staple agricultural products to be self-sufficient, while Greek industries still do exist in realms as varied as defense manufacturing, aluminum, steel, cement production, clothing and textiles, and more, accompanied by a burgeoning “start-up” landscape. Indeed, any reductions in Greek industrial and agricultural capability over the past two to three decades can be attributed to EU policies, such as the “Common Agricultural Policies” which have disincentivized the production of many previous staple crops.

IMF “Mistakes,” the Eternal Greek Inferiority Complex, and a Visit to the Heart of the EU and NATO Machine

One of the more ludicrous aspects of the ongoing crisis and “negotiations” have been the IMF’s repeated “admissions” of “mistakes” that it made in Greece’s “bailout” program, with the latest such admission coming in a tweet made by Dominique Strauss-Kahn on June 27. One has to wonder just how “mistaken” the IMF really was in the case of Greece though, when considering that the IMF’s modus operandi in all of the countries it has “saved” has been the same: stifling austerity, reduced salaries and pensions, slashed social spending, and privatizations of key industries, resources, and public assets. The fact that the very same Strauss-Kahn has previously admitted meeting with Papandreou prior to the latter’s election in 2009 shows that the IMF’s actions in Greece, far from being mistaken, were premeditated and par for the course, following the fund’s standard operating procedures.

For this reason, the latest show of “support” towards Greece, a crowdfunding campaign launched on IndieGoGo, proves to be yet another demonstration of “faux solidarity” towards the country and its suffering populace. This crowdfunding campaign, launched apparently by a 29-year old shoe shop employee in Britain, is raising money to cover Greece’s recent unpaid loan installment to the IMF. Far from collecting funds to help support the homeless, the hungry, or those without income in Greece, this “show of support” is instead raising funds to pay one of the prime culprits in Greece’s economic crisis of the past five years, a fund which has, according to the Debt Jubilee Campaign, made a €2.5 billion profit as a result of its “bailout” of Greece, while 92% of the “bailout” funds have gone back to Greece’s lenders and never entered the Greek economy.

This crowdfunding campaign has been a media sensation and a convenient distraction from other, more serious issues at play. Similarly, demonstrations in “solidarity” with the Greek people which have sprung up across the world in recent weeks often come across as demonstrations in favor of SYRIZA (belying, at the very least, a sort of blissful ignorance about the realities of SYRIZA’s actions while in power), while one has to wonder just where this solidarity was during the five previous years and just how extensive it really is, considering that politicians such as German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble are enjoying record approval ratings (if the polls are to be believed), likely in part due to their stance towards Greece.

Within Greece’s borders, once sees a similar phenomenon prevailing within a significant sector of the populace: a longstanding inferiority complex vis-à-vis the more “civilized” countries of the West. It is this nationwide Stockholm Syndrome, this learned helplessness and dependency on being a part of something “bigger and better,” whether it is the Eurozone, the EU, or NATO, which has long been a highlight of the Greek psyche, at least for a significant portion of the population, and helps explain why so many people are still in support of the very institutions which have imposed on Greece the conditions that have resulted in the worst economic depression during peacetime of any developed country during the post-war period. It explains the turnout at pro-”yes” demonstrations. It explains the reluctance with parting with the euro (even if independent polls show a majority in favor of grexit). It also explains the absolute euro-fetish of almost the entirety of Greece’s political class.

A little over two years ago, I personally had the opportunity to travel to the heart of the beast: a weeklong visit to EU institutions and to NATO, as part of an academic program I was invited to participate in. This week was full of misery for me but was nevertheless beneficial in that it was remarkably eye-opening. Hearing statements made by EU and NATO officials about Greece and hearing their viewpoints about such quaint notions about democracy were truly telling and spoke volumes about the regard with which these principles are upheld within these institutions. Throughout meetings with EU and NATO technocrats, a number of very revealing statements were made which I took note of, including:

- “The sovereign state is a 19th century construct, and nothing lasts forever.”
- [Unelected prime minister] “Monti best thing that ever happened to Italy”
- “There are regions of Italy which we wish Brussels could govern directly”
- “The labor force should be ‘flexible’ and should ‘diversify’”
- “Mussolini ‘dealt with the situation’”
- “We believe in a Single European Consciousness”
- Three reasons for European economic crisis: “Bad design. Bad luck. Bad decisions: Greece.”

If anyone has any uncertainties as to the democratic “leanings” of the Nobel Prize winning European Union and of counterpart institutions such as NATO, the aforementioned quotes should dispel any such doubts.

Of course, the EU increasingly does a fine job of demonstrating just how authoritarian and undemocratic it is even in its public statements. This was seen, for instance, on June 29th, when the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being negotiated behind closed doors and under total confidentiality by the European Union and the United States, was brought to the European Parliament for a plenary vote. In response to previous criticisms about the non-transparent TTIP proceedings, Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for trade, stated that she “does not receive her mandate from the European people.” The unelected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stated that “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties,” while Schäuble has publicly stated that “[e]lections change nothing. There are rules.” Furthermore, Article 352 of the EU treaties afford the EU the “necessary powers” to implement coercive measures against member-states without any existing legal basis.

What Are the Alternatives?

It does not take much to demonstrate the EU’s true, undemocratic colors. Yet the common retort heard in response to arguments against the policies of the EU and the institutions is “what are the alternatives?,” or, reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s famous words, “there are no alternatives.” And yet, the alternatives are many, varied, and have been expressed by a number of economists and political figures, both within and outside of Greece.

Iceland serves as a shining example for all who believe that there is another road to be followed instead of assuming that even an illegal or odious debt must be repaid or that banks are “too big to fail” and bankers and politicians “too important to jail.” Iceland refused to pay an odious and illegal debt which, similar to that of Greece, was covered under foreign legal jurisdiction (under the law of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands). Icelanders have been given the opportunity to “crowdsource” a new constitution and to vote in a non-binding referendum, though the new constitution has not yet been implemented. Bankers and former politicians have, in several cases, been imprisoned. And Iceland’s GDP is growing faster than any country in the Eurozone while unemployment is plummeting. Even the IMF was forced to admit, in a May 2015 report, that Iceland is quickly approaching pre-crisis economic levels with the policies that it has undertaken. Yet, the example of Iceland has been completely ignored by the Greek media and in practically all outside media coverage of Greece, just as similar examples from Latin American countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, have similarly and systematically been ignored.

Instead of blackmailing the voters of Greece to make a difficult and vague choice between a complex set of proposals and a “no” whose consequences have not been clarified on the part of the SYRIZA-led government, a referendum could have been held, with the banks open and daily life operating normally, on whether the Greek people wish to remain in the Eurozone at all costs or whether they wish to return to a national currency. Such a suggestion was, indeed, recently made by renowned analyst and author Tariq Ali, in an interview with aired on Dialogos Radio. The SYRIZA-led coalition government could break free of its Euro-fetish and open a serious dialogue with the voters of Greece, presenting a plan to break free of the EU and austerity stranglehold, explaining that it will be a challenging transition at first, but asking for the popular support and resolve to take this courageous next step. The people of Greece could be presented with an objective explanations of the pros and cons of each choice. The Greek people could also be invited, just as the people of Iceland were, to form popular committees to review the Greek constitution, the immunity laws protecting current and former politicians and government ministers, and a host of other issues pertaining to the structure and function of Greek democracy. Indeed, this referendum (or set of referendums) could have been held on or around February 20th, the date of the “creatively ambiguous” Eurogroup agreement.

The truth of the matter is that alternative voices exist in Greece, and they are plentiful. Despite the commonly-heard rhetoric, SYRIZA is not governing with a popular mandate. It received 36% of the vote—out of those who voted. While approximately 2.2 million voters chose SYRIZA on the 25th of January, over 3.5 million registered voters did not vote for anyone at all, in a country where voter turnout was traditionally very high, pre-crisis. This demonstrates that the largest percentage of Greek voters were not swayed by any of the parties participating in the January elections. Notably though, with the elections called on such short notice, almost two dozen smaller political parties were unable to raise enough funds to qualify for participation and inclusion on the ballot. These parties participated in the 2014 European parliamentary elections and in the two consecutive Greek parliamentary elections of 2012, and several of these parties have expressed clear positions against austerity and the memorandums, and in favor of leaving the euro, declaring a stoppage of payments and write-off of the majority of the debt, and investigating previous governments and politicians for their actions in leading Greece into its impasse. These parties include the United People’s Front (EPAM) and the “I Don’t Pay” Movement, and are joined by other parties which either managed to participate in the January elections (Antarsya) or which have adopted a vaguer approach to the question of grexit (the Pirate Party of Greece) but have adopted a clear “no” position in the upcoming referendum and which have questioned many of the austerity policies of the past five years and have called for more transparency and the implementation of many of the measures seen in countries such as Iceland

Indeed, a number of economists within and outside Greece have presented proposals for just how Greece could manage a grexit, without necessarily devaluing its currency at first (by not floating the currency on the open markets, similar to China), by nationalizing Greece’s central bank, and by writing off, at the very least, a significant portion of the debt. British economist Roger Bootle recently was awarded the Wolfson Prize in Economics for his proposal on how a Eurozone exit could be safely managed by any member-state. Economists Dimitris Kazakis of EPAM, Leonidas Vatikiotis of Antarsya, and many others have repeatedly, steadily, and clearly articulated how a grexit could be implemented and what the next day would bring. However, all of these smaller political parties and movements have been systematically shut out of the pro-austerity media, both in Greece and internationally.

The bottom line is this: SYRIZA, far from giving the Greek people a historic democratic choice, has instead called a referendum whose message is unclear and muddled and which does not tackle the main issue at hand: to grexit or not to grexit. The referendum is being held under the worst possible circumstances, with banks closed, ATMs disbursing limited funds, and with the Greek Treasury and public coffers having been previously ransacked via presidential decree to pay the May tranche to the IMF, while Greece’s high tourist season is being hit hard by the swirling uncertainty and accompanying sensationalized media coverage. This situation has given plenty of fuel to light the pro-austerity fire, spurred on by the Greek and international media and practically all of Greece’s main opposition parties. And while all of this has been happening, SYRIZA is apparently still discussing other proposals, which it is not revealing to the Greek public and which it will not bring to the voters as part of a referendum, though if SYRIZA’s statements over the past week and its pre-referendum proposals are any indication, its proposals are not much different from the final solution put forth by Greece’s so-called European “partners.” This is faux-democracy and faux-radicalism at its finest, and it is par for SYRIZA’s course, based on its actions throughout its five-plus months in office