The Rise and Fall of Syriza

The latest news from Greece is that Prime Minister Tsipras has resigned and called a new election. This follows a rebellion by 1/3 of Syriza MPs, who voted against the IMF bailout Greek voters rejected in the 5 July referendum. According to the The Guardian, 25 Syriza MPs have broken away to form the anti-austerity party Popular Unity, led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis. Some analysts predict the new party will call for Greece to exit the euro monetary union: see Senior Syriza MP Greece Must Exit Monetary Union

The following documentary lays out some of the economic and social realities that led to the rise of Syriza.

Greece on the Brink

Manuel Reichetseder (2014)

Film Review

Greece on the Brink is a 2014 documentary about brutal living conditions in Greece that led to the rise of the left wing Syriza government. At the time the film was made, 65% of Greek youth age 15-34 were unemployed. Millions of Greeks had no income at all and were scavenging food out of garbage cans. Twenty thousand were homeless and one third had no access to privatized health care.

The film documents that only a tiny proportion of the $206.9 billion bailout Greece received between 2010-2013 went to public services:

  • 48% went to European creditors
  • 28% went to Greek banks
  • 22% went into the national budget (of this 16% went to interest payments, most of the balance went to the Greek military)

In addition to bolstering Syriza’s rise to power, the Greek economic crisis has led to numerous experiments in worker self-organization: solidarity clinics run by health professionals volunteering their services, solidarity networks that provide free food, a journalist cooperative in which journalists run their own newspaper, various worker co-ops which have occupied and taken over shuttered factories, and TV journalists and engineers who took over the state broadcasting service after the Greek government shut it down.

Most of the commentators featured in the film are militant Syriza members who predicted a year ago  (based on compromises Tsipras made to propel his party into power) that Syriza wouldn’t solve the problems faced by the Greek working class.

The most interesting section is a Marxist analysis by British economist Allen Woods about the real cause of the 2008 “credit crunch” that triggered Greece’s sudden economic collapse. According to Woods, debt is the mechanism capitalists use to avoid the crisis of overproduction. Marx believed that overproduction was an inevitable structural defect of so-called free market capitalism. By its very nature, capitalist production always overshoots the ability of the market to regulate it.

As Marx noted 150 years ago, capitalism tries to make up for this defect by expanding credit (ie debt). Woods gives the current 30% overcapacity of the global automotive industry as an example. This is illustrated by an article that appeared in Zero Hedge a year ago about new car graveyards – see Where the World’s Unsold Cars Go to Die

Woods predicts that there will be no solution to the current global economic crisis until overproduction (and the debt that supports it) are eliminated.

11 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Syriza

  1. Dear Dr. Bramhall:

    Given your experience writing on the subject of mobbing, the recent murder-suicide in a government building on Varick street in Manhattan would make a good topic for this blog. It is clear that the shooter was a long-term government employee/whistleblower who was mobbed. Even the office of a N.J. Congressman who had tried to help his efforts stated that he had received a “raw deal”:

    “A New Jersey congressman says a man who gunned down a security guard at a federal building in Manhattan before killing himself was a whistleblower who had been given “a raw deal” by the agency that fired him.
    U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell said Saturday that several members of his staff worked with gunman Kevin Downing to resolve his case and Downing never showed any violent tendencies.
    Pascrell says he has no idea why Downing snapped.”

    http://www.aol.com/article/2015/08/22/police-trying-to-uncover-motive-in-federal-building-shooting/21226062/?icid=maing-grid7|main5|dl2|sec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D-927530149

    The link below includes the letter that the shooter jointly signed against government waste and abuse:

    http://heavy.com/news/2015/08/kevin-downing-federal-immigration-varick-street-soho-tribeca-fort-lee-shooting-suspect/

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  2. I don’t understand economics, but there are eleven countries in the world with higher debt per person than Greece
    http://tinyurl.com/pgx2cm4
    and twenty countries with a lower (negative) current account balance (per CIA)
    http://tinyurl.com/cvtx6gw

    Both lists include major countries worse than Greece: US, UK, Canada, France, etc.
    So apparently Greece has some structural and/or corruption problems that other countries don’t have, which means that charity isn’t going to help.

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    • It’s my understanding that some countries (like the US) are allowed to carry more debt per person because they have a large tax base, leading to a strong expectation the debt will be repaid.

      It’s my understanding that most of the Greek debt originates from bailing out Greek and European banks who essentially went bankrupt in 2008. I think this is pretty clear from the breakdown above showing that only 6% of current bailout funds go to the national budget (and most of this goes to the military).

      Spain, Italy and Portugal are also on the verge of bankruptcy for the same reason: their taxpayers have also been expected to bail out banks that became insolvent owing to risky and fraudulent financial dealings.

      None of these bailouts should have happened – either the banks should have shut their doors or they should have been nationalized and used to issue national, debt-free currencies.

      The US is also technically insolvent due to their $15 trillion bank bailouts and the trillions spent on the war on terror. At the moment, the US is allowed to carry this level of debt owing to their military supremacy and large taxpayer base. However a long string of foreign policy failures suggests the worm is turning – that before long China and other countries holding US debt are going to demand their pound of flesh.

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    • Greetings Jerry,
      I am puzzled on how you reached the observation that Yanis Varoufakis turned on his “friend” Alexis Tsipras (Yanis called him friend in an interview question explaining how he educated Alexis on economics and was recruited).
      More specifically and recently is this report (perhaps the reporter is misinforming us?) :
      On the contrary, former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will most likely not join the new party. When reporters told SYRIZA MP Costas Lapavitsas that reports say Varoufakis will not be in the new Left Platform party, Lapavitsas answered, “Sometimes reports are accurate.”

      – See more at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2015/08/21/syriza-left-platform-announces-new-party-popular-unity/

      The new political party, is labelled “rebels” and likely to viciously attacked as a “Grexit Party” if they seek to follow along with the Greek People’s “OXI” No Vote to creditors’ dictatorial memo of understandings.

      Yanis does have some puzzling activities that appears to be contradictory, but there is much unknown of what and why from behind the closed doors of funding (bribing/extorting politicians) governments.
      I have an easier time reading the facts from Costas Lapavitsas, another maverick that wants to lift the citizens out of poverty and austerity. He also is an economic professor (high profile euro-sceptic, consistently for years called for the return to the Drachma and Grexit) but for that obvious reason (Grexit) was not chosen to lead the government’s finance. Costas Lapavitsas has never shown any naivete to the reality of politic; whereas both Varoufakis and Tsipras has demonstrated to the world their naive assumptions about their creditors.
      Expect Costas Lapavitsas to be influential in the Popular Unity party, or perhaps it will become known as the “Grexit party”.

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    • Me, too Jerry. I’m also disappointed in Tsipras. What has me especially concerned is evidence something similar is happening in the NZ Green Party. Some in our leadership are so eager to get into government, they’re happy to compromise very basic principles our party is based on. It was behavior like this that destroyed the German Green Party.

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  3. Excellent link, Ron. I tend to feel the article is correct in predicting that Varoufakis won’t join the Popular Unity Party. He doesn’t seem prepared to take the heat for the really tough decision of exiting the euro.

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    • I have been observing Yanis for a few years and I am convinced that there is more to him than his blog and public facade reveals. Yanis V. and Alexis T. have consistently in public promoted remaining within the currency union. Yanis has explained why, in his opinion, leaving would be suicidal, hmmm perhaps he said devastating 😉
      Either way I read it as the same thing.

      Like

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