After a frantic weekend the Greek government sought to break the deadlock in its talks with lenders today by reshuffling its negotiating team.
Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister who made the global headlines in the aftermath of Syriza’s election victory will take a back seat, while the lesser known economic specialist in the foreign ministry Euclid Tsakalotos will lead the talks. Though both men are western educated, fluent English speaking economists, their styles – and politics – are different.
Mr Tsakalotos is a classic Marxist of the New Left who, when he addressed a meeting in the British parliament last month, brushed aside calls by left Labour MPs for Greece to ditch the Euro on the grounds that “national” economic programmes do not work. Mr Varoufakis once described himself as an “erratic Marxist”; Mr Tsakalotos comes from that school of Marxism which learned from the 1970s onwards to make compromises with capitalist reality.
He is not only softer spoken; he is very attached to the idea of Syriza as a reforming left-social government and existentially committed to the Euro. What is more, he is a longstanding member of Syriza, with a surer feel for what the party’s members will accept in the compromise that he’ll have to craft.
But the issue is urgent. Those who’ve seen the books in Greece say the country will be able to pay salaries and pensions this week, but that the cash flow of the government looks bleak in May. By draining the cash reserves of public bodies – local councils for example – Mr Varoufakis has been able to keep Greece afloat, but in a way that saps the resilience of such bodies – councils, hospitals etc – should Greece break decisively with the ECB.
To be clear, Mr Varoufakis remains in charge of the finance ministry, and of the government’s economic strategy. But by placing Mr Tsakalotos – who’s been involved from the start – at the head of the negotiating team, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras is sending the strongest possible signal that he wants a compromise to keep Greece inside the Euro.
A sense of the frustration on the Greek side can be got from a briefing document, originating inside Mr Tsipras’ office, which Channel 4 News has seen.
It speaks of “memorandum inertia”, complaining that Eurogroup negotiators have continually tried to unpick the agreement Mr Varoufakis signed on 20 February.
The briefing note states: “There is no agreement on basic topics of the negotiation between the European Commission and the ECB on the one hand, and the IMF on the other. For that reason they plan to draft an internal document writing down their common points and differences.”
The document claims that the ECB is at odds with the European Commission over the framework of discussions – i.e. it wants the old bailout not the 20 February agreement as the basis; and it claims the European Commission is open to ending repossession of people’s homes, and “does not consider massive layoffs to be an issue”.
In a further concession to its lenders, Greece will facilitate the work of EU and IMF teams in Athens: it had insisted all discussions go via politicians rather than officials and it is this – procedural rather than substantial – spat that lay behind the fractious end to Friday’s Eurogroup meeting in Riga.
In years gone by, it would not have mattered to the international bond markets what sub-genre of Marxist they were dealing with: this news knocked several points off Greek bond yields.
It prompted puzzlement among some journalists, who claimed Mr Varoufakis was already “effectively side-lined” two months ago when Mr Tsipras began negotiating direct with the EU.
This misses a vital point: Mr Tsakalotos has decades of political capital with the inner core of a couple of thousands Syriza activists who will have to take the decision on whether to stomach the compromise Greece will need to do.
I don't know about you, but my favorite part is the bit about Tsakalatos being a "classic Marxist of the New Left who...comes from that school of Marxism which learned from 1970s onward to make compromises with capitalist reality."He’ll have to face down the party’s left, which on the last count had 41 per cent of the votes for rejecting any deal with the Eurogroup. Given his non-party background, that was always going to be Mr Varoufakis biggest hurdle; now it will be jumped by someone else.
That's classic Marxism, all right. Not sure what school it is, maybe the London School of Economics or the Wharton School, but no doubt about it being classic Marxism. I don't know why Mr. Mason limits the school to the classes of post-1970. After all "compromises" "with capitalist reality"-- preserving and reproducing capitalist property, capitalist values-- is exactly what Marxism has been all about ever since....well, Bernstein for one; Kautsky for another; and Lenin, let's not forget Lenin and Trotsky who, in the "interests of the [Russian] revolution" of course, compromised revolutionaries in Turkey; who more or less, more and less, screwed the pooch as we like to say in the railroad biz, the pooch meaning the task, the task being the overthrow of international capitalism. Germany, anyone? What leaders of "world revolution" would or could allow a murdering moron like Bela Kun to act as an agent of the "general staff"? Case closed.
And beyond that? Puhlease. There's the Third International beyond Germany. In China, in Britain, in Spain, in France, everywhere they could get their hands around the neck of the prospects for revolution. That's classic Marxism too, isn't it?
Not that the 1970s come up short when it comes to, well when it comes to coming up short. We have the classic Marxists of the New Left (alma maters unknown) in Allende's Unidad Popular government. There's a compromise that worked out well for both parties, don't you think? And the ever classic Communist Party Espagne doing what it does naturally, or historically (same-same) in Spain during the waning of the light that was Generalissimo Franco. And Portugal, don't forget the classic Marxist of Portugal, Cunhal, classically trained as a lawyer, and functioning as minister without portfolio in the various provisional governments of and around the MFA in the 1970s. Look at Portugal now, huh? Thing of beauty, that's what I think.
So we are getting a "classical Marxist" in place of an "erratic Marxist" when it comes to cutting a deal and this is a sign of the "seriousness" of a struggle against austerity, and for compromise?
Meanwhile, the Syriza government cuts a deal to finance overhauling weapons for the military and demands that public institutions, including hospitals and pharmacies, deposit all cash reserves (beyond what 15, 30 days of operating expense coverage?) into the central bank so that......so that the government can negotiate extensions with the Troika, pay its own operating expenses, provide an indeterminate amount of cash for pensions, and make payments to the IMF. Now that's classic Marxism, isn't it? Can't you just see and hear the old Moor applauding?
This must be where my lack of classical training, committed vulgarian that I am, really shows. I mean if I were facing a throw down with my creditors, and I wanted to protect the meager social services still extant in my charade of a government, I would keep that money out of the hands of the national central bank which is in the network of the European Central Bank and whose actions can be constrained at any moment by instructions from the ECB.
Yes, classic Marxism of the 1970s, available in compact disc format or......8-track tapes. This offer expires soon, so hurry.
Meet the New Left classic Marxism that smells just like the classic Marxism of the old left, always looking for the next way to fuck to death the prospects for workers' power. It's moments like these when I have to say "classic Marxism" does not exist. There is only the critique of capital, which becomes the weapon for its abolition by social revolution.
April 27, 2015