Entrevista / Revista de Economia Critica

Entrevista a Elias Ioakimoglou
Entrevista realizada por Bibiana Medialdea y Antonio Sanabria. | 27.12.2015
Revista de Economía Crítica, nº20, segundo semestre 2015, ISNN 2013-5254 Entrevista realizada por Bibiana Medialdea y Antonio Sanabria. Elias Ioakimoglou es investigador en economía política. Noviembre 2015. Traducción: Jordi Roca Jusmet

Q: Syriza election victory in January 2015 opened high expectations about the possibilities for an alternative economic management and for the social majority in Europe. A political force that explicitly questioned the logic of austerity and adjustment achieved unprecedented popular support on the continent. It has not even been a year of that time, what do you think you can balance the experience of government regarding these expectations possibility of an alternative economic management?
Great expectations about Syriza being able and willing to apply an anti-austerity economic programme drugging the economy out of recession, lowering unemployment and reducing income inequalities, have been subverted in one single night: the night of the 12th July, when Alexis Tsipras took the political and moral responsibility to capitulate, against all odds, breaking Syriza’s promises for social justice and economic relief. A whole country has been surprised and delivered without resistance to captivity by debt by a man who proved to be able to sell the moon.
Then, Alexis Tsipras knowing “sorry” means nothing once promises are broken, he sold the moon a second time. He gave new impossible promises: this time he would find ways to relief the most vulnerable citizens from the consequences of the 3d adjustment programme that he, himself, had signed a few days ago. Furthermore, using a political blitzkrieg he took by surprise its political adversaries: he proclaimed new general elections leaving to its adversaries inside Syriza a short time span of only 30 days to organize a new party. It is improbable that the working classes, the unemployed and the low income population that supported Tsipras all the way from the beginning of the crisis to the U-turn of the 12th of July believed Syriza is still the same party. Everybody in Greece knows that Alexis Tsipras in now a Schultz-like social-democrat politician. Nevertheless, the voters of the Left had no credible alternative since the new leftist party Popular Unity, was unable to present a clear-cut alternative strategy; therefore they voted for Tsipras hoping that he would keep at least some of its renewed promises or they preferred to abstain from the elections.
Q: What about the role of Varoufakis in negotiations with the troika? Do you think other negotiating strategy by the first government of Syriza would have done better?
I don’t think Varoufakis had nothing to do with the negotiating strategy, which was defined and finalised by Tsipras and its advisors during the two first months of 2015. That was done in a completely undemocratic way, ignoring the party. Until then we expected that the negotiations would start with bold moves, with the Greek government imposing capital controls right away after the elections of January and postponing debt service payments until an agreement is reached. I am convinced that the outcome of such an aggressive negotiating strategy would have been much better than the humiliating capitulation of the 12th July.
Q: How do you interpret the announcement of the referendum now? And the result? The Greek population seems to reject the proposal from the troika but also discards a break with it (leaving the euro) ... It was somewhat ambiguous the question itself? In view of the results obtained by Popular Unity, do you think that a more forceful question would have had a more favorable "yes" result?
The question was not at all ambiguous. All Greeks understood what it was about. It was not a question about leaving the eurozone or not, it was about the continuation of austerity policies, labour market reform and lower wages in order to increase (supposedly) competitiveness. It was about the continuation of policies dismantling the social state, reducing dramatically pensions and demolishing social protection institutions --and the answer was as clear as the question. Who gave this answer? We know now, thanks to statistics, that the answer was not given by the Greeks in general; it was given by the working classes of the business sector, civil servants, precarious workers, the unemployed, the young and the poor. Each one or these social categories voted “no” massively (80% to 90%). On the contrary, high income social categories, owners of capital and wealth, voted massively for “yes”. To put it simply, those who are benefiting from austerity policies and structural reform voted for “yes” while those who suffer from these policies voted for “no”. Now, this is a clear cut division: The week before the referendum was one of those rare historical moments when social classes and their allies jump on the political scene and become visible to the naked eye. The bloc of social forces in power that is the bourgeoisie, big capital, bankers, executives of corporations and financial firms, big media journalists, high rank state bureaucrats, neoliberal intellectuals and artists, life-style featherbrains and start-up young wanna-be entrepreneurs, petit-bourgeois benefiting from huge income inequalities achieved through internal devaluation and labour market reform, rentiers, small firm owners paying now half wages of what they used to pay in 2010, old people sitting on their accumulated wealth, they all presented themselves, in person, on the electoral battlefield to defend openly, without the usual ideological ornaments, their immediate class interest, the interest of naked money, the right to live on profit, interest and rent, to live on the labour of others. The presence of this social bloc in power was strong not only in the streets and demonstrations and TV, but also in firms where employees were more or less openly threatened by employers that they would be fired if they would vote for ‘no’. This exhibition of class self-interest and crude force, the absence of a hegemonic narrative of the ruling classes, was the catalyst that precipitated the long process of formation of an anti-austerity, unified, visible social bloc of the working classes, the unemployed, the young and the poor. The formation of this bloc started in 2010 with the implementation of the EU-driven economic adjustment programmes and ended a few days before the referendum when the subordinate social classes organised massive demonstrations of historical size and energy (without the intermediation of the leading politicians of Syriza who mildly supported the ‘no’ campaign) and voted ‘no’ against all the warnings, the threats, the blackmail, the ideological bullying, the fear spread by TV channels, firms, employer’s organisations, neoliberal economists and politicians, against the risk of being fired, impoverished, thrown in the misery of a country outcast from the supposedly stable and secure economic environment of the eurozone.
Q: The election results and the apparent support for the euro shown in the polls, does it make possible, in your opinion, to manage a break from the Greek government with the single currency and short-term costs of Grexit?
The election results do not show a support for the euro. Voters of the Left voted for Syriza because the alternative was a conservative government that would apply the 3d memorandum this time with even more cruelty than before. Syriza remained the best choice for the unemployed, the workers, the young and the poor even after the U-turn of the 12th of July.
As far as the break with the single currency is concerned, the Greek government does not have the intention to leave the eurozone, they are even hostile to such an eventual outcome --they always have been and that is why they capitulated.
Q: After formation of Syriza’s new government once it has been electorally validated the signature of the third "rescue", which goals and perspectives do you believe there are to work for an alternative to austerity in the country?
The signature of the 3d memorandum has not been electorally validated. Voters simply tried to protect themselves from the worst possible outcome that was a government formed by the conservative party of New Democracy, wich was the only party able to win the election except Syriza.
The perspectives to work for an alternative to austerity have nothing to do with Syriza, which gradually, but very fast, degenerates to a Renzi-style social-democratic party. We are thus confronted with this historical originality: In the presence of a strong anti-austerity social bloc of conscious, politically active workers, unemployed, young people, poor people, militants, that have acquired precious political and organisational skills during the five years of fierce social conflict and political struggle, there is not a political party or organisation able to assume the representation of this anti-austerity social bloc. So, the perspectives for an anti-austerity policy depend on the agility of political forces that left Syriza (approximately 40% of its most active and politically skilled members) to form a new political organisation able to assume the political representation of the anti-austerity social bloc.
Q: After signing third memorandum now, from the creditor side it seems they to accept some restructuring, as Syriza requested in the negotiations. In fact, the IMF raises it as a precondition to participate again. What do you think about that?
What is at stakes in Greece is not mainly the repayment of debt, it is the continuation and the success of a large scale enterprise of destruction of existing social structures and the reconstruction of the society on the basis of purely neoliberal principles. The aims of this enterprise are to obtain a radical change in the balance of power between labour and capital, and the stabilisation of the labour income at very low levels. This is essential in order to secure a minimum acceptable level of profitability although capital is over-accumulated. In other words, the size of accumulated capital is now so big that its claims on a diminished real product exceed by far the actual size of this product; therefore these claims are unsustainable unless the working classes, the unemployed, the pensioners, the young, accept to live with less and less goods and services. Now, this is the plan of the ruling classes of Europe for Greece, and if Tsipras drags Greece along this path, I suppose he can obtain some concessions from the creditors concerning the debt in exchange for his good services; perhaps that will give him the chance to sell the moon for a third time.