Introduction by Stathis Kouvelakis
A thorough examination of the causes of the capitulation of Greece’s government in July 2015 and the signing of a third Memorandum of Understanding reveals one of the principal lines of division of the period – a division that is not simply a matter of historical events but is directly political in nature.
It is clear that such a disaster cannot be explained in terms of psychology, nor simply of the errors made, nor solely in terms of individuals – even though the enormous personal responsibilities of those who have taken a leading role in the process cannot be absolved.
Eric Toussaint’s account is a precious contribution to this vitally important critical re-examination. The Greek public came to know Toussaint when he was asked to serve as scientific coordinator of the Greek Debt Truth Commission, formed in April 2015 under the auspices of the then Speaker of the Greek Parliament, Zoë Konstantopoulou.
Eric Toussaint is a veteran of several decades of work and militant action in the area of public debt, and before his work in Greece he had taken part in the citizen debt audits in several countries in Latin America (Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil) and Asia (East Timor) as well as within such organisations as the African Union.
That rich international experience naturally put him in an excellent position not only to contribute to the investigation into the causes of Greece’s being led into the claws of the European and international “debtocracy” |1|, but also to evaluate the political strategies the protagonists of the current Greek tragedy have chosen to follow regarding this vital question.
And that is precisely where his analysis takes on its full importance. From his particular position, that of a “foreign” participant who nevertheless, from the start, found himself in the front lines of the battle that took place around the Greek crisis, Toussaint acquired first-hand knowledge of the way in which Syriza, the political grouping that quickly became the principal protagonist in the events that followed, dealt with the issue of debt.
What he reveals in the text that follows – excerpted from a series of interviews that need to be read in their entirety – is how Alexis Tsipras and his close collaborators took the wrong path concerning precisely this fundamental issue. Starting from the position of demanding cancellation of the illegitimate debt and the conducting of a citizen audit, Syriza’s leaders ended up accepting “consensual” solutions, all of them unachievable and oblivious of the lessons taught by History. Their model became the London Agreement of 1953, by which, in the midst of the Cold War, the winners of the Second World War cancelled the majority of Germany’s debt, since the country needed to be reconstructed (and re-armed) at an accelerated pace. But that erroneous path was not embarked on at the point where Syriza won the elections, in January 2015, but well in advance of that date – to be precise, on the day following the elections in Spring 2012, when the coalition became the leading opposition force and its leaders took on autonomy vis-à-vis the collective bodies of their parties and began to function, de facto, as a “shadow cabinet” pending the actual exercise of governmental functions.
Eric Toussaint is very clear as to why that erroneous path was followed. As he stresses in this interview, “the hub around Tsipras (I do not mean Syriza’s political office, since the politburo members were not involved with the key decisions, just as the central committee members were kept at arm’s length) including Yannis Dragasakis (the current deputy prime minister who played a key role) took the decisive stand in the crucial moments: ‘Confrontation with the great Greek capital, the Greek bankers and the ship-owners must be avoided at any cost.’ The interests of the latter two are absolutely interlinked. Likewise, the hub considered it necessary to avoid confrontation with the European institutions.”
As we know, the commitment not to break from the euro and the EU, whatever the cost, and absolute submission to the framework established by NATO were also an integral part of the choices that were made.
Eric Toussaint, in order to conserve the possibility of intervening as effectively as possible in his own field, which is public debt, very prudently avoided getting involved in the debate over the euro at that point. Today, as he stresses in the continuation of this interview, he considers exiting the euro a necessary step for European periphery countries who want to reverse the policy of austerity and throw off the chains of the debtocracy.
This relative distance he puts between himself and the confrontation around the question of the euro, which was central to the divisions within Syriza at the time, gives his account even more weight. It demonstrates that the abandonment of Syriza’s initial position of “no sacrifices for the euro,” which came about exactly at the same moment – that is, on the day after the twofold elections in 2012 –, was neither a tactical movement nor the result of a simple obsession with Europe, even if that was indeed undeniably true of a large percentage of the leaders, but also of Syriza’s rank and file.
The oaths of allegiance to the euro and the obsessive rejection of any alternative plan should the negotiations fail were nothing more than the other facet of a strategic choice to avoid confrontation, either with the internal bourgeoisie or with Europe’s dominant classes and the political mechanisms of their domination – that is to say, the European Union and its Annexes (the ECB, the Financial Stability Facility, etc.)
It is precisely that choice, which of course was never publicly presented as such at the time, that determined the intangible framework within which the Syriza government evolved between January and July 2015 – with the exception of the July referendum, which in such a context could only be one last convulsion before capitulation.
The outcome of this sequence of events is familiar, and its consequences are being felt day after day by the Greek people, but also by all the forces of the “Leftist Left” in Europe (and beyond), in whose eyes, in the space of a few months, Greece metamorphosed from a beacon of hope to a bleeding wound.
In the wake of such a historic defeat, it is essential that the right lessons be learned from it before any new departure can take place.
Throughout these years, Eric Toussaint has shown himself to be an active participant and an invaluable supporter of the struggle of the Greek people.
Today, in giving us his account of those events, he shows that his contribution and the struggle itself are continuing and will continue until justice is done |2|.
Part 5 of the interview “History of the CADTM’s anti-debt Policies”
How did the notion of auditing public debt come to gain support in Greece? What supporting forces could you count on and how did you come in touch with the proponents of the demand for a Greek debt audit?
The CADTM has worked at the levels of both Europe and Greece. In an attempt to launch a joint European anti-austerity movement uniting the social and political forces, the CADTM had convened a European meeting in Brussels on September 29, 2010 on the occasion of a European demonstration called for by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). |3|
Before that, Moisis Litsis, Sonia and Giorgos Mitralias |4| took the initiative and established an anti-debt Committee, which is a member of the CADTM International network, at the beginning of July 2010 in Athens. Giorgos Mitralias translated the citizen audit manual published by the CADTM International network and the publishing house Alexandria brought out a Greek edition in 2011.
The CADTM’s views began to be recognised in Greece starting from 2010. Several interviews were published in the Greek print media. For example, the Greek magazine Epikaira published a long interview of myself with Leonidas Vatikiotis |5|, journalist and a very active far-left political activist. There I explained the causes behind the explosion of the public debt and how the Ecuadorian experience could be a source of inspiration for Greece in terms of an audit commission and the suspension of debt payments. In the concluding part I was asked “What should Greece do?“and I answered:”An Audit Commission involving prestigious and experienced people should be formed immediately. My advice is clear: Open the books of account! Examine all state contracts– ranging from the biggest, such as those of the recent Olympic Games, to the smallest! Proceed in the utmost transparency and in the presence of trade unions and citizens’ associations and discover which part of the debt resulted from corruption, and is therefore illegal and odious as per the international terminology. Denounce it!” |6|
Economist Costas Lapavitsas |7| also wrote several articles actively defending the need to establish an audit committee. Those were widely circulated in Greece. In one of them he wrote: "The international audit commission could serve as a catalyst and contribute to the transparency that is needed. Such an international commission, made up of experts in auditing public finances, economists, labour organisers and representatives of social movements, will have to be totally independent of political parties. It will have to have support from many organisations, which will make it possible to mobilise very broad social strata. This is how the popular participation necessary to deal with the question of the debt will begin to become a reality”. |8| (Translation: CADTM)
On January 9, 2011, the Greek daily Ethnos tis Kyriakis, third in terms of circulation at that time, interviewed me. It was published as: “It is not logical to repay debts that are illegitimate. The people of Europe also should audit their creditors” |9|. The daily explained: “The Committee’s work in Ecuador has recently been mentioned in the Greek Parliament by Sofia Sakorafa”.
In fact, in December 2010, the MP Sofia Sakorafa said in a speech in the Greek Parliament that a Debt Audit Commission, inspired by the Ecuadorian example, was necessary. The parliament was then dominated by PASOK and New Democracy who had no interest in elucidating the debt, and her proposal was rejected. Nevertheless, people other than professional politicians kept on fighting the battle. The Greek debt audit committee (ELE) was launched in March 2011. This stemmed from major efforts to bring together people who barely knew each other even a few weeks earlier. The gravity of the Greek crisis catalysed this creative process. While preparing to launch this committee, Costas Lapavitsas issued an international appeal, supported by the CADTM. It had wide-ranging response.
Costas Lapavitsas consulted me for the content of the international appeal to support the committee’s formation. I made some amendments. After that, we started seeking support from people likely to help us spread the word and also enhance the credibility of the initiative. I undertook to collect the maximum possible number of signatures from international personalities supporting the establishment of the audit committee. I had known many of them for years, such as Noam Chomsky (USA) with whom I had been in touch on the debt issue since 1998, Jean Ziegler (Switzerland) who was then a UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Tariq Ali (UK), and many economists.