If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out and difficult. Heraclitus, Fragments
Having participated in the international anti-EU forum just days before Syriza government called for a bailout referendum, Athens was seminal in inciting all smatters to indulge in the day-to-day developments of Greek politics. During the three-day forum, participants were involved in deep discussions about political and economic crises within the European Economic Area, with particular emphasis on the southern countries along with the crises’ impact on left- and right-wing realignments in several member countries, including the Ukraine.
The news that the Syriza government did not surrender to blackmail and abandoned the negotiations with the Troika (European Union, European Central Bank and IMF) on the morning of 27 June seems to have boosted morale among the anti-EU Left, who had been skeptical of Syriza’s strategy to negotiate a better bailout deal. The Forum, hosted by MARS (Frontal Left Alignment) and Antarsya (Anticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow), gathered twenty-two leftist organizations and networks from all over the continent and interviewed their spokespersons to provide insight into the European radical left’s views regarding Syriza’s vacillating commitment to stop the Troika’s austerity measures.
The opening of the final assembly began unexpectedly in the courtyard of the Athens School of Fine Arts, rather than the allocated de Chirico Auditorium where the assembly was supposed to be held, because participants had already immersed themselves in interpreting the Syriza leadership’s unheralded referendum announcement. The delayed meeting—the early attendants joked that the cause of the delay was “Greek time”—welcomed the call for referendum as an opportunity to reject not only the derogatory Memoranda imposed by the Troika but also the euro and the EU, which they view as a tool of subordination and an imperialistic union, respectively. The Memoranda of Understanding between Greece and the Troika signed in 2010 and extended in 2011 and 2012 foresaw the `haircuts` on public debts. The participants of the Forum agreed in their Final Declaration that the Troika’s policies were neoliberal and non-negotiable in nature and that Syriza’s negotiation strategy was misguided, ill-fated, and ignored the fact that any attempt to find solution within the EU and not to fight for the exit from the Eurozone as well as the EU was doomed to fail.
Both Syriza’s left-wing members and their comrades from the European left are expecting a majority NO vote. But they do not dismiss that the referendum results will have close margins. Wilhelm Langthaler from Anti-imperialist Camp and Euroexit Austria reminds us that Syriza is not a new left movement by nature—a major difference with the Spanish left-wing Podemos in power—but rather a political party that “stole” the constituency of pro-EU rightist parties: “The poorest ten percent of Greek society which was primarily dependent on social security benefits and public assistance has lost about ninety percent of their income since 2006.” Hence, even though the party owes its popularity among Greek voters to its promises to halt the “capitulations” imposed by the Germans, these voters oscillate between the left and right of the political spectrum. The last televised address of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in which he stressed that a vote for NO would not mean a vote for the exit from the EU, also proves that he wants to appease the Greek fear about a post-referendum economic abyss.
According to our interviewees, it is important to have a clear understanding of the complex situation and choices facing the Greek people. A middle-aged organizer for the Forum explains that there is no good choice except for the lesser evil – Grexit, or Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. He has to look after a five-person household on a monthly salary of 950 euros. The Greek economy is supposed to shrink almost twenty-five percent. As he says, “My mother gets a pension of only 350 euros and the Troika still seeks to cut it.” He is then prompted to say, “We should have left the Eurozone five years ago. So now, whether we leave or not, I do not care!” Nevertheless, our interviewees acknowledge that a NO vote would mean a rupture of the relationship between Greece and the EU, which incites fear of economic insecurity among Greek population. The exit from the Eurozone and the transition to national currency would bring some sixty percent devaluation at the start, says Langthaler. He also emphasizes that labor wages have been suppressed for the last five years in line with the German strategy to keep Greece within the Eurozone—only possible by reducing the cost of labor.
So the exit from the Eurozone should not be considered an immediate emancipation for Greek society, but they nevertheless have to face it. For Antarsya spokesperson Panagiotis Sotiris, this is the dilemma for Greek people. They tend to cling to the status quo. But if the Syriza government opts for a sincere approach and tells the clear truth to the people without indulging in the illusion of short-cut solutions, the referendum results could give way to a mass NO vote. Antarsya, highly critical of Syriza’s negotiation strategy with the institutions, also declares a pro-referendum approach. For Sotiris, “the referendum will not only allow the expression of popular will but also, whatever the [Syriza] government thinks, it will open the way for a rupture.”
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the EU regards the referendum itself as a hostile act and objectively creates confrontation between the Union and the Syriza government. Sotiris claims that the Union tends to dismiss institutional referendums about its structure after the European Constitution was hit by a fatal blow in 2005, when French and Dutch rejections prevented it from being ratified. Further, the 2008 Treaty of Lisbon, which made minor revisions to the 2005 Constitution, was tabled in virtually all of the national assemblies (except Ireland). So, the Greek call for referendum over EU matters could be considered beyond “the normal exercise of democracy,” according to Sotiris. This is a referendum not about implementing something but rather about rejecting something, he says, which creates the conditions for an objective confrontation. Secondly, a leftist front opposing the EU would also deter the popular opposition from verging towards the far-right, which could otherwise fill the political vacuum and mobilize Greek anti-austerity resentment .
However, according to an interview with Giorgos Sapounas, a left-wing member of Syriza central committee, the government has different stakes in the referendum. When we asked him about the possibility of Greek expulsion from the Eurozone if the bailout deal is validated by the referendum, he highlights the “quite unique situation in modern history that there is a possibility for the Eurozone to lose a member.” According to Sapounas, the Greek expulsion from the euro is a possibility, not a fact (yet). But even if this is the case, it might “create a serious political problem for the Union because the Eurozone would lose its credibility in the markets.” The rejection of the bailout deal in the referendum will not deadlock Syriza. He underlines that the Greek state still has choices, such as refusing to accept the debt owed to the creditors. As is well-known, Greece owes 323 billion euros to the IMF, ECB, and private lenders. A debt auditing committee headed by Zoe Konstantinopolou, the president of Greek Parliament, concluded that the debt is illegal. Sapounas remarks that Syriza can thus deny paying the debt, although this is not currently the party’s line. “We do not think that the game is over,” he says, “because it is the opposite side that faces the biggest challenge in decision-making.”
Syriza, seeking to have a better bailout deal, took several steps back in order to compromise with the Troika’s proposals, and yet it still failed to reach an agreement. The Troika, according to PM Tsipras, has demanded the humiliation of Greek people via “measures leading to further deregulation of the labor market, pension cuts, and further reductions in public sector wages and an increase in VAT on food, dining and tourism, while eliminating tax breaks for the Greek islands.” Sapounas thinks that the Troika wants to smash the government because it is the government of the left. The new neoliberalism puts austerity measures in the social majority in every country, even in Germany. According to him, "They are afraid that (Syriza) will spark a fire on the continent.” Thus, in the hope of setting an example for the Europe, the Syriza government easily passed the referendum bill in the Parliament despite the opposition of the pro-EU PASOK, New Democracy and To Potami parties as well as the Greek Communist Party KKE, which won fifteen out of 300 seats in the 2015 Elections.
Roots of the Crisis and ‘What is to be done?’
If Greece’s debt is illegal, then what are the roots of the economic crisis? The three-day forum addressed this question in several aspects with a clear emphasis on the oppressive role of “core countries” and the loss of sovereignty within the EU’s southern periphery. According to Manuel Enrique Monereo Pérez, professor of political science and activist for Frente Civico Somos Mayoria (We Are the Majority Civic Front), which held Leave the Euro Conference in Spain last year, the EU-imposed rules favor the creditors and do not allow the possibility for the offensively-named PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) to leave the crisis. Let us take the state of California as an example, Monereo suggests. The state could be ranked as the tenth economic power in the world if it were an independent country. Its budget deficit is worse than Greece’s, but its economy is not in crisis because the US Federal State is providing support. The state of California can ask for loans from the Federal Reserve and receive them, whereas the Greek government is prohibited by the European Constitution from doing so.
According to our interviewees, the euro sets the rules of the game to benefit the core countries because each of the countries has a different rate of productivity. This is not only a question of currency but also of economic exchange itself. For Moreneo, the PIGS countries buy more than they sell and their deficit is financed by exporter countries like Germany. The latter provide just enough liquidity to ensure that Greek people buy their merchandise. Moreneo’s German counterpart, Langthaler, draws attention to the significance of the US—one has to recall the burst of the housing bubble in 2006. This was a global crisis, for Langthaler, but the credit crunch in Southern Europe was due to the euro regime. Germany maintained high rates of credit for eastern European countries as well. For instance, the Greek economy with extensive deindustrialization was not able to survive on the basis of tourism earnings only.
These analyses bring us back to the Leninist catchphrase then: What is to be done? Most participants in the anti-EU forum have a clear understanding of what a rupture from the system might mean. They think that this is not only an economic crisis but also, and first of all, a political one. A Spanish perspective on the Greek crisis emphasizes that the Greek PM Alexis Tsipras deals with the institutions and not the banks, whereas one trillion euros out of Spain’s debt of two and a half trillion euros is owed to the private creditors. Although Moreneo states that the case of Spain is not comparable to Greece and the former’s huge amount of debt—four times its GDP—is unpayable without being served by the Spanish government, he firmly supports the Grexit. As he rightfully puts it, the state can be only defined as the state if it issues money. Within the Eurozone, nation-states have no economic and political sovereignty, as the Greek case illustrates: it is not allowed to issue its own currency.
Without money, there is default. Moreneo argues for an intervention by the National Bank of Greece. Complementary to this step, the Greek government should issue IOUs—incipient money often offered as a precursor of the introduction of new currency. The exit from the Eurozone is the necessary condition for this, but it is not sufficient. For Sotiris, the Antarsya spokesperson, the Greek government should fully accept the logic of rupture and immediately suspend debt payments. Preparations for the exit from the Eurozone and the EU are compulsory for overcoming the constant threat of blackmail, increasing public spending, and recovering control of banks and strategic sectors. Langthaler, from Euroexit Austria, criticizes the leftist currents that mistakenly argue for the EU’s existence as a way of restraining nationalism. On the contrary, more protective measures should be taken in order to complement the exit: nationalizing the banks, introducing customs walls, and building a public investment program.
Today, the Syriza government faces a lot of pressure at home. The capital controls imposed by the Syriza government, along with the closing of National Bank until after the referendum in order to stop the withdrawals of money, have been treated as risky though necessary measures because they might lead to discontent especially among the middle-class Greek who may vote in favour of the proposals of Troika. The Greek left has vocally criticized Syriza since the beginning of its rule, pointing to its potential for “betrayal.” The anti-EU demonstration and the march to the Syntagma Square facing the Parliament building illustrate the disbelief of MARS and Antarsya in the government’s efforts to handle the debt crisis. Their reactions to Yannis Varoufakis, the Finance Minister, were exemplary. As the protestors passed the Parliament building on their way toward Syntagma Square, they came across Varoufakis, who was walking on the sideway with no guards but with a media army, and they booed him. “We say NO until the end to get out of the euro,” said one MARS activist. A young woman in her thirties, she explained that she has to subsist on a 600 euro salary as a secretary for a German lawyer and pay half of it renting a one-bedroom flat downtown.
Even though the election alliance of MARS and Antarsya won only 0.75 percent of the vote in the 2015 elections, their attitude is representative of the cynicism against Syriza. The discussions led by Antarsya in the closing assembly of the forum made clear that their supporters did not want to lean on the Syriza government, even if the referendum successfully ends in a NO vote. They also advocated for the immediate mobilization of social groups, indicating the limits of Syriza’s ability to overthrow the “capitulations” imposed by the Troika.  What will happen within Syriza after the referendum is also indefinite. The presence of right-wing members in the party expressing doubts about the referendum, and the last-minute effort to negotiate with the Eurogroup for a bailout deal—which was rejected, thanks to German chancellor Merkel—obscures the way that Syriza will follow as well.
Still, the Forum was regarded as a successful attempt to strengthen coordination among progressive anti-EU forces in conjunction with the hot agenda of Greece: the call for referendum. For Sotiris, this is a first-rate international forum that can impel the European left “to rethink its position regarding the EU and to realize that there is no point to reforming or democratizing it.” As the crisis spreads across the Europe, the solidarity has also extended across European borders. This is why, according to Langthaler, people from all over the continent have participated in the forum and conducted discussions. Whether the message of the forum will be received by broader political circles is another matter. But the Final Declaration of Athens clearly wages a war against the EU, which is “more reactionary, anti-popular, and neoliberal” than ever.
For Syriza as well, the referendum might constitute a new phase for the whole European left. Recognizing the existence of disagreements among the currents of the left, Giorgos Sapounas, the central committee member, underlines that the EU is first and foremost a political entity, rather than a mere economic body: “There cannot be any nationalist answer to the EU. It is a global system, not only for the movement of money, but also for the movement of ideas and people. So we press even now to change Europe.” He also reminds us that social movements in the country receded in the aftermath of the big uprising between 2009 and 2012 and Greek people now tend to express their demands for economic and social justice only electorally. Apparently, this is not an easy fight for Syriza. Despite his criticisms, Sapounas believes that there is no clear road that the party leadership are ignoring, and the coming days will show what will happen. He also expects if Greek people give a strong support to the Syriza government—by voting NO in the referendum—Syriza can set an ‘ example for the left’ in Europe and in the world, showing not how an economy grows but how you divide the wealth among people.
No matter what, the Greek people have to take a chance this Sunday, risking the blackmail of default and finding themselves in far worse dire straits if they refuse the bailout proposals of the Troika. They seem exhausted of tightening their belts and have had enough of the ongoing negotiations. Whether inside or outside Europe, the Syriza government will not be able to find a solution to the crisis without the Greek people. In the last week, as Syntagma Square alternated between rallies in favour of NO and YES, the Greek people came back onto the streets like old times, culminating in the massive NO demonstration that flooded the square last Friday. Maybe the Greeks should expect the unexpected, in the home country of Heraclitus, and maybe they will set an example for all of us by bringing the Troika to its knees. The question is not whether Greece will be detached from the EU, but whether the Greek people shall overcome. We shall see!
 Declaration of Athens available at http://www.euroexit.org/index.php/2015/06/29/declaration-of-athens-against-the-eu/
 Also stated by Paul Mason’s brilliant article http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/29/greece-chaos-syriza-gamble-banks-closed-referendum
 Alexis Tsipras, “An End to Blackmail”, Jacobin Magazine, 27.6.2015 available at https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/06/tsipras-speech-referendum-bailout-troika/
 Panagiotis Sotiris, “Referendum as Rupture”, Jacobin Magazine, 2.7.2015 available at https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/07/tsipras-syriza-greece-exit-default-european-union/