Belfast Telegraph

There can be no borders in battle against austerity

By Eamonn McCann

Many left-wing activists and commentators across Europe have been seized by dismay at what they see as a let-down by Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

The academic in the cool leather jacket told the Associated Press last weekend that not only would the Syriza government stump up what Greece owed to the International Monetary Fund but, if necessary, would "squeeze blood out of a stone" to find the money to do it. "We are not going to be the first country not to meet our obligations to the IMF."

It had been widely believed that when the Troika - the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union - called to pick up its next payment on the Wonga debt run up by the previous government, Syriza would tell it to take a hike.

Had not party leader Alexis Tsipras roused rallies in the days leading up to the January 25 election with promises to face down the financial institutions holding Greece to ransom?

But this wasn't really Syriza's position. Those who listened closely will have realised that the reality would prove more prosaic than the poetical fancies of wishful thinkers.

Close listeners included shipping and steel magnate George Angelopoulos and billionaire oil mogul and banking tycoon Spiros Latsis, both of whom have now declared support for Mr Tsipras' government.

Since Syriza was catapulted into the global limelight by taking second place in the inconclusive parliamentary election of May 2012, Varoufakis has spoken to a range of audiences around the world - hedge fund managers, Westminster MPs, anti-austerity campaigners, the Federal Reserve Bank, conferences of Left-wing economists.

His lectures appear to have gone down well everywhere - from which a cynic might conclude that his remarks were capable of different interpretations.

But there was a core consistency to his message. As far as was possible, Syriza would shun the Troika, but would readily negotiate with the IMF. The IMF, he argued, had taken a significantly more amenable line than the other components of the Troika and could be convinced to create the space for serious discussion of an agreement.

The EU was an unstable political outfit subject to the whims of governments, the ECB a back-stop bank standing behind other banks. The IMF, on the other hand, had a mission to maintain stability across the global economy.

It had a rationale for accepting whatever was necessary to save the eurozone: forcing Greece out would have potentially catastrophic implications.

This perspective was set out in a letter on February 23 from IMF managing director Christine Lagarde to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Netherlands finance minister and president of the Euro Group, suggesting that the list of measures submitted by Syriza "is sufficiently comprehensive to be a valid starting-point for a successful conclusion of the review" - that is, a review of the state of play between Greece and the rest of Europe.

Varoufakis's argument was complementary, that a Greek exit from the eurozone, whether forced or voluntary, would have a ripple effect across other indebted countries and force them out, too, collapsing the currency and plunging the global economy into a crisis so deep it might not be able to clamber out.

Portugal would be next, he predicted, then Spain, or perhaps Ireland, then Italy, by which stage the game would be up.

The Left would not be the beneficiaries, but, far more likely, "the Golden Dawn nazis, the assorted neo-fascists, the xenophobes and the spivs".

Be careful how you go with confronting the European financial and economic elite, is his message - or, more specifically, confronting your own government with mass pressure to defy the Troika and adopt a radical anti-austerity stance.

If this is the democratic will of the people, by all means pursue it as far and as fast as you can. But be aware that seeking a solution for your own country will lead to negotiations with those you regard as the enemy from which you, or rather your countrywomen and men, will emerge the loser.

This is not a Greek crisis. There is no Greek solution. To imagine a radical change in Greece which would leave the rest of the eurozone more or less intact is delusionary. Similarly for the Republic. It's not an Irish crisis, there's no Irish solution. Waving tricolours outside Leinster House is both futile and silly.

Now more than ever, nationalism makes no sense from the point of view of working-class people. Only a European-wide movement taking on the proponents of austerity across European borders will have any chance of success.

Impossible? Then a solution in the interests of the many and not of the few is impossible.

Back in the Sixties, we used to plaster the town with posters - "Be realistic, demand the impossible". Perhaps its time has come at last.

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