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*Snarl* Thwack!* Kick!* Scratch! Just Another Day In Athens

"What is Truth, Mr. Kouvelakis?" (IMAGE: c Icon productions)

Well look here. We've got a new Greece it seems. Gone is the set of radical leftist Syriza leaders who swept into power, knocking aside their predecessors with the promise of total reform, of punching austerity square in the teeth, and promising to tell the eurozone what's what and hold out until the bitter end until those rank capitalist ministers in Brussels woke up and smelled the socialism.

At least, so it seems, this is what the party members and let-down, hard-hurting general public are feeling. Central Syriza Committe member and Political Theory Professor at King's College, London, Stathis Kouvelakis wrote in a post today,

The strategy of Syriza’s leadership has failed miserably. But it’s not too late to avert total defeat.

And that's just the lead in from his headline. He goes on:

Let us begin with what should be indisputable: the Eurogroup agreement that the Greek government was dragged into on Friday amounts to a headlong retreat.

The memorandum regime is to be extended, the loan agreement and the totality of debt recognized, “supervision,” another word for troika rule, is to be continued under another name, and there is now little chance Syriza’s program can be implemented.

Such a thorough failure is not, and cannot be, a matter of chance, or the product of an ill-devised tactical maneuver. It represents the defeat of a specific political line that has underlain the government’s current approach.

Kouvelakis goes on to make his case by outlining the list of demands that the Syriza leaders walked in to Brussels with reflecting their election agenda relatively clearly... no more supervision or assessment procedures, a transitional "bridge program" sans austerity, a "can we tawk here?" request for general recognition by lenders of the outstanding non-viability of existing debt, and a total recognition of the need for general renegotiation of all points up and down from A to Z.

Syriza walked away essentially with a few entities and vehicles renamed for internal political help back home, but with all points of the existing program that they wanted to angrily jettison generally in tact along all points up and down and from A to Z.

He goes on, painfully:

Moreover, to make it abundantly clear that the use of the term “institutions” instead of the term “troika” is window-dressing, the text specifically reaffirms the tripartite composition of the supervisory mechanism, emphasizing that the “institutions” include the ECB (“against this background we recall the independence of the European Central Bank”) and the International Monetary Fund (“we also agreed that the IMF would continue to play its role”).

As regards the debt, the text mentions that “the Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely.” In other words forget any discussion of “haircuts,” “debt reduction,” let alone “writing off of the greater part of the debt,” as is Syriza’s programmatic commitment.

And a last stinging salvo from his cannon:

But it was not enough that the Europeans should reject all the Greek demands. They had, in every way, to bind the Syriza government hand and foot in order to demonstrate in practice that whatever the electoral result and the political profile of the government that might emerge, no reversal of austerity is feasible within the existing European framework. As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stated, “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”

As for how the Greeks and specifically Syriza got itself into such a predicament of limping home wimpering, lies and weak propaganda between its teeth, neutered by creditors--after landing in Brussels shot out of the home political cannon full of fighting energy to dump the whole bailout agreement--Kouvelakis blames the Greek strategy on the way in to western Europe. He seems to suggest that the rejection of the taking of unilateral moves such as suspension of payment neutered the Greek side and left them without a bargaining chip. When the massive capital outflows began in early February when the ECB announced suspension of primary liquid assistance, he blames the Greeks for not imposing immediate capital controls to stem the gush and show strength. 

In essence, Kouvelakis blames his party leaders for fearing Grexit far too deeply. By visibly shuddering at the reality of internal financial collapse in a euro environment, rather than reacting unilaterally, the Brussels Blink had taken place before a single line was written to the memorandum just approved. Or so Kouvelakis would like to proclaim.

Kouvelakis winds up with these lines:

Rarely has a strategy been confuted so unequivocally and so rapidly. Syriza’s Manolis Glezos was therefore right to speak of “illusion” and, rising to the occasion, apologize to the people for having contributed to cultivating it. Precisely for the same reason, but conversely, and with the assistance of some of the local media, the government has attempted to represent this devastating outcome as a “negotiating success,” confirming that “Europe is an arena for negotiation,” that it is “leaving behind the Troika and the Memoranda” and other similar assertions.

Afraid to do what Glezos has dared to do — i.e. acknowledge the failure of its entire strategy — the leadership is attempting a cover-up, “passing off meat as fish,” to cite the popular Greek saying.

[...]

If, therefore, we wish to avert a second, and this time decisive, defeat — which would put an end to the Greek leftist experiment, with incalculable consequences for society and for the Left inside and outside this country — we must look reality in the face and speak the language of honesty.

 If honesty be the lingo of the day, Kouvelakis ought to realize that aside from slapping down capital controls to artificially stem the outflow of capital precipitated by the crisis triggered by a failure of negotiation with the eurozone, he is completely short of suggestion of alternate specific strategy. Is he suggesting total Grexit was preferable to the present scenario? Is he suggesting that unilateral moves made prior to and or during Brussels would have gotten what the Greeks wanted from their Euro creditors? Would this have scared the zone membership so profoundly that the game of chicken would have had a different outcome?

If honesty be the currency of the day then the following must be stated: the strategic failure was one of attitude, of insult, of brusque and irritating behavior. Unilateral insult would have only widened the gulf. They needed empathy and understanding from their creditors, not anger--diplomacy, not rough edges. From the beginning, none of this was on offer to the Greeks by design.

And even with a more conciliatory attitude, the concessions would have been minimal. There would have been little to no "write-offs" or "haircuts" in evidence. What they wound up with was pretty much all that was--with small room for modulation--on offer. 

That be the truth.

Preston Clive

2/24/2015***