Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Perry Anderson's sneering take on the Greek government's handling of the Troika negotiations

Jacobin has been publishing a number of articles recently on the Greek crisis. Unfortunately, the first one I read was The Greek Debacle by Perry Anderson 07/23/2015.

Perry Anderson is one of the best-known Marxists of the Western academic world, a long-time editor of the New Left Review. That was a relatively lonely position after the fall of the Soviet Union. But after the crash of 2008, even financial magazines were starting to worry if Marx was more right than their writers would prefer to think. Which got some more respectable attention for Anderson, who in any case is a respected academic. In this piece, he dismisses Syriza's months-long fight over austerity policies against Germany and the Troika as more-or-less contemptible:

Five years of mass unemployment and welfare cuts later, Greek debt had merely soared still higher. Syriza won office because it promised, with much fiery rhetoric, to put an end to the submission of Greece to the rule of the troika. It would “renegotiate” the terms of the country’s wardship in Europe. How did it hope to do so? Simply by pleading for kinder treatment, and cursing when it was not forthcoming - pleas and curses alike appealing to the loftier values of Europe, to which the European Council could surely not remain deaf.

Incompatible with these outpourings, mingling supplication and imprecation, was, all too plainly from the start, any thought of desisting from the euro. There were two reasons for that. Provincial in outlook, the Syriza leadership found it difficult to make any mental distinction between membership of the EU and of the eurozone, treating exit from the one as if it were virtual expulsion from the other: the ultimate nightmare for any good European, as they held themselves to be.

They were also conscious of the fact that Greek standards of living — lubricated by low interest rates brought on by the convergence of spreads across Europe; topped up with Structural Funds — had indeed increased in the Potemkin years of Simitis, leaving warm popular memories of the euro, which did not connect subsequent miseries with it. Syriza made no attempt to explain the connection. Tspiras and his colleagues assured all who could listen that, on the contrary, there could be no question of abandoning the euro.

With this, they gave up any serious hope of bargaining with the real — not their dreamland — Europe. By 2015, the threat of a Grexit was economically much weaker than it would have been in 2010, because by now the German and French banks had been paid off with the bailout nominally going to Greece. Despite residual alarmist talk elsewhere, the German finance ministry has for some time, and with good reason, dismissed any dramatic material consequences from a Greek default. [my emphasis]
This is so superficial and ill-informed, it amazes me.

  • The German Finance Ministry has been spectacularly wrong on its projected benefits of austerity in Greece, so it's not clear why Anderson takes them as an obviously qualified authority on this question
  • Almost all the economists and economic analysts I've seen commenting on this assume, based on past experience with the break-up of currency zones and of ending currency pegs, that leaving the euro would be significantly disruptive in the short run in Greece and would greatly increase the likelihood of increasing pressure on other periphery countries to leave the eurozone
  • Christos Laskos and current Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos describe the discussions within Syriza that led to adopting their position of negotiating a non-austerity position within the eurozone in Crucible of Resistance: Greece, the Eurozone and the World Economic Crisis (2013); one can argue it was an inadequate position, but it was certainly not due to frivolity of the part of Tsipras and the rest of the Syriza leadership
  • Varoufakis' Finance Ministry actually did make preparations for a Grexit. In fact, he's being accused by some of the opposition of "high treason" for having done so! After the referendum on the Troika's demands, Tsipras made a decision not to press on with those preparations. But it was not the brainless neglect that Anderson seems to want his readers to think it was.

Tsipras and Varoufakis did not based their negotiating strategy on simply "appealing to the loftier values of Europe." The knew very well that other eurozone countries were very concerned about the broader consequences of a Grexit and wanted to avoid that. They hoped the fear of those consequences would persuade them to agree to ease up on the austerity policies and get realistic about debt reduction.

I've said in earlier posts that based on what we know now, the negotiating strategy the Greek government pursued of getting a better deal within the eurozone could only have worked if they really had been willing to take the option of Grexit if they didn't get a non-austerity deal. But Tsipras as Prime Minister had to make a call as the head of government on whether the risk was worth it. And he decided that at that moment in July 2015, it was not. Anderson's description gives no good idea of what the actual decision factors were.

Anderson even resorts to polemics like this, which in this case are just dumb: "Syriza has turned its coat with a speed not seen since war credits were supported by European social democracy in 1914, even if this time a minority of the party has saved its honor."

If there's a difference between Anderson's piece and run-of-the-mill Internet trolling, it hard to discern what that is.

Edward Skidelsky described him back in 1999 this way: (The New Statesman Profile - Perry Anderson 03/19/2015): "Perry Anderson exemplifies a type that has almost vanished: the unaffiliated intellectual. The leading British Trotskyite, he has never belonged to a political party."

The best definition of a Trotskyist I ever heard was: A Trotskyist is someone who support revolution everywhere except where there's one actually going on.

In other words, "Trots" are known for being so pure that any actual political movement that's having an effect on real-world politics and government policy is by definition soiled with impurities and is Betraying The Revolution. Anderson's polemic against Tsipras and Syriza falls into that definition nicely.

No comments: