Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jeff Mackler's Greek Post-Mortem

The article by Socialist Action's Jeff Mackler reprises Syriza's humiliating capitulation to the Troika. Mr. Mackler gets some basic facts all wrong.

Here's the big howler:
Greece today, as with all capitalist states, is ruled by an elite ruling class that long ago established the fundamental rules that govern social relations. Its highly profitable shipbuilding industry and related merchant-marine manufacturing stands second or third in the world. Yet these industries are virtually untaxed by the state. The same situation exists with virtually all major Greek private capitalist corporations and financial institutions.
A quick check of the CIA Factbook shows that Greece has no shipbuilding industry at all. The top four shipbuilding nations are China, S. Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, who between them manufacture over 90% of gross tonnage. Greece doesn't even show up in the top ten. Of course Greece has a large merchant marine, essentially a ferry boat service between their myriad islands, analogous to the highway department in most countries.

So it's hardly surprising that shipbuilding is untaxed. Even for the most devout revolutionary taxing a non-existent industry will prove to be a challenge.

But Greece does have a problem collecting taxes--tax evasion is endemic since Ottoman times. By far the biggest export industry is tourism, contributing 18% to GDP. This led to the humorous attempt by the government to ask tourists to rat out restaurants and hotels who didn't provide receipts.

More seriously, Mr. Mackler doesn't understand what "austerity" is. I don't totally blame him since most media reports are similarly unclear. But it's important to get this straight.

The problem Greece has is that it has been living off borrowed money. Germany has been by far the biggest lender, and some blame Germany for causing Greece's problems in the first place. (That's like blaming Budweiser for alcoholism.) Whoever is to blame, Germany is no longer willing to lend money to Greece except under very stringent conditions.

So when you're living off the credit card and the credit card is taken away, then of course your standard of living is going to go down. This accounts for the decline in GDP and living standards in Greece--nothing more.

Now Germany--as I think Mr. Mackler hints at--does not want to lend Greece any more money under any conditions. They prefer that Greece leave the Eurozone, after which Germany and other countries can provide humanitarian assistance--a gift rather than a loan, and money that remains entirely under the control of the donor. Though for a whole bunch of reasons, some of which Mr. Mackler alludes to, Germany didn't get its way. So the Germans are now on the hook for yet another bailout.

The conditions are that Greece run a primary surplus. That means they must meet their daily expenses without having to incur more debt. (If they have a symbolic amount left over to repay the principal, so much the better.) Then the Troika will provide Greeks with enough money to pay the interest on the debt already accrued. That is, it's really a bailout of European banks rather than Greek citizens. The advantage to the Greeks is they don't default, i.e., they remain members in good standing in both the Eurozone and the world economy. That's a huge advantage!

And that's the third thing that Mr. Mackler doesn't comprehend. Giving the world market the middle finger is a really bad idea. North Korea is the country that's gone furthest with that, and they're poor as rats. Cuba and Argentina aren't far behind. Greece is historically a trading nation. You can't be a trading nation if you promise up front that you'll never pay your debts. Welshing on world trade will drive Greece into African levels of poverty.

The Greek people understand that. They overwhelmingly do not want to leave the Euro. Whatever had to be done to avoid defaulting on their debt needed to happen. I think that's why the pushback against the Tsipras surrender has been so modest. Only random Trotskyist grouplets and sundry fascists have opposed it. Everybody else is smarter than that.

Fourth, Mr. Mackler doesn't quite understand Syriza's class character. He describes them as washed-up Stalinists, unrepentant liberals, and fuzzy-minded socialists--all people without the proletarian sensibilities necessary to lead a socialist revolution.

All true as far as it goes. But the key point is that Syriza represents government employees, i.e., the 40% of the workforce employed by the state. Since the government can't collect taxes and relies on borrowed money, they're the folks who are most hurt by cutting up the credit card. They'd also be most hurt by leaving the Euro. So frankly, Mr. Tsipras did as much for them as he could. At the end of the day that constituency wants to stay in the Euro, and that's what has happened.

So what would a true revolutionary leadership have done?
Had Syriza spent its first six months governing Greece looking to the working-class masses as its source of strength and power, the result might well have been inspirational to the workers of the rest of the oppressed European states and beyond.  
But instead of mobilizing its millions to challenge capitalist rule, to take over the major industries, to tax and/or expropriate the rich, to national the banks and major corporations, all under the control of the working masses, Syriza and its sycophants (blind and obedient followers) envisioned social change as a product of clever negotiations with the capitalist elite, employing leading intellectuals to press for modest reforms within the framework of capitalism. Greece’s working-class masses were shunted to the sidelines by the Syriza/ANEL government.
Given that the major industry doesn't even exist, this will not prove easy. The biggest money earner is tourism, which depends crucially on small restaurants and stores, along with foreign expertise and capital to run hotels and cruise ships. You can't nationalize this stuff!

All in all, Mr. Mackler's article is a waste of time.

Further Reading:

No comments:

Post a Comment