I’ve sat down a few times this week intending to write something about what’s happening in Greece, but the situation has been so fluid it’s been hard to make much sense of it. Things do seem to have settled into some sort of pattern over the last couple of days though, so I’ll hazard some thoughts.
My suspicion that the Germans would stick to a hard line seems to have been right; what was more surprising was the speed with which the Syriza government caved in. Their capitulation has been met with bewilderment and not a little anger in left-wing circles, coming as it did only a few days after they had received a strong mandate from Greek workers in the referendum.
Accusations of selling-out are a little unfair I think; Tsipras and those around him seem to have expected the Germans to back down, and, when it became obvious that that wasn’t going to happen, to have calculated that it was better to remain in power, and try to offset the worst of the austerity, rather than walk away. There is some logic in this position, though, given that they have just signed away a big chunk of sovereignty, the scope for resistance may be limited.
Where Syriza can be criticicised is for allowing themselves to be boxed into such a position. They seem to have drastically underestimated the extent to which the Germans would be prepared to sacrifice their economic interests to maintain their political power. From what I have read of accounts of the negotiations it sounds as if the Greeks approached them like an academic debate, in which cold logic would win out, rather than the vicious political street fight that the Germans engaged in.
It is hard to understand why this was so; Syriza may be a broad coalition, but plenty of their senior members are experienced activists who should have seen this coming. There are reports that some in the Left Block of the party were arguing that more preparations should be made for the possibility of an exit from the Euro, but very few practical steps to this end seem to have been taken.
As things stand it is looking like a defeat for the left, but all is not lost. There will certainly be a realignment of anti-austerity forces, and while the bailout agreement has been passed by the Greek parliament it it far from clear that the Tsipras government will be able to push through the most unpopular provisions, given the level of politicisation and mobilisation of the Greek working class. There are splits emerging in the Troika too; the IMF, which is more interested in getting at least some of its money back than preserving German hegemony in Europe, may force Berlin to accept some write-off of the debt.
There are also some signs that pan-European solidarity with the Greeks may be stirring, most crucially in Germany. Even in the UK, which is always a bit detached from these things, there have been demonstrations and collections of cash for food banks and free clinics in Greece. This may not significantly alter the course of events, but might alleviate at least some of the pain.
If we have learned one thing from the last two weeks though, it’s that this crisis is far from settled, and there will undoubtedly be more unexpected developments before we can say that it is over.