Greece’s Fight Against European Austerity | TARIQ ALI


The Implications of SYRIZA and the Greek Elections

 

Tariq Ali was interviewed by Kostas Vlahopoulos and Thomas Giourgas for www.nostimonimar.gr.

1. For the first time in Greek political history, a radical left party, SYRIZA, is the strong favorite to win the general elections taking place in January the 25th. What kind of reaction do you expect from the neo-liberal Europe and in particular from Germany?

Tariq Ali: If SYRIZA wins it will mark the beginnings of a fightback against austerity and neo-liberalism in Europe. Two concurrent processes will be in motion from the beginning of the victory. There will be a strong attempt by the EU elite led by Germany to try and tame SYRIZA via a combination of threats and concessions. The aim of this operation is simple. To try and split SYRIZA at a very early stage.

Secondly there will be a high level of expectation from SYRIZA’s electorate and beyond. Mass mobilizations will be extremely important to sustain the new government and push it to carry through the first necessary measures. The debt and the readjustment measures must be repudiated immediately before moving on to implement a plan that restores the social gains that have been achieved and are being dismantled by the Troika-led governments. The first three months will be decisive in terms of revealing the contours of the political and economic landscape envisaged by SYRIZA. Neo-liberalism can not be dismantled overnight but the will to do so must be paramount. Bandwagon careerists must not be allowed to sabotage what can and should be done

2. Do you believe that -inside this tight European framework- a SYRIZA government will be able to put forward its political agenda and to implement the promised reforms as a first remedy to the growing humanitarian crisis? Which should be the main priorities and the style of governance by a SYRIZA government? Do you think that SYRIZA, and Alexis Tsipras as their leader, could reshape and redefine the sociopolitical conditions and direction of the country?

Tariq Ali: Implementation will take time. We know this from the South American experience, but a start has to be made and the leaders have to make sure that all that is being done is in the open. Transparency is a vital ingredient to mass mobilisation and politicization. The more public support that is seen on the streets the more citizens in other EU countries will be inclined to support the Greek demands. Ultimately, in my opinion, if the EU elite/Troika refuse to make meaningful concessions then the only alternative is to defy them and if, as a result, Greece is expelled from the EU (something that would be unconstitutional) then Plan B has to be implemented. A SYRIZA government that allows itself to be effectively blackmailed by the EU will run the danger of being Pasok Mark 2 and that would be a huge disaster for Greece and Spain. I don’t think this will happen and I think Alexis Tsipras will resist the EU apologists within his own ranks, but the pressure will be huge especially from the Germans for whom the Monetary Union has acquired supernatural status. As the EMU is obviously not working it needs to be carefully dumped. The rise of German nationalism must be of concern to the elite and PEGIDA is a clear warning.

3. What is your view of the current sociopolitical situation in Greece?

Tariq Ali: The situation is polarised. The fascists of Golden Dawn and the Conservative descendants of the wrong side in the Greek Civil war have the support of a sizeable section of the Greek population. This cannot be ignored and we do so at our peril. The emergence and growing support for SYRIZA (and PODEMOS in Spain) is the post positive development in Europe, but in order for it to move another step forward without moving backwards it will have to challenge the Greek oligarchs, confront the ship-owners mafia that owns the media, that pays few taxes, if any, and also to remove the tax free status of the Orthodox Church. Its not that the Church is poor. Its ownership of property makes the institution an oligarch in its own right. In the case of the ship-owners they must be compelled to pay taxes in retrospect so that the country can move forward economically again and start functioning properly. Such a move will annoy the more backward sections of the EU elite but will be popular in Europe as a whole and will lay the basis for a political battle with the Troika by splitting their supporters.

4. Do you think that a SYRIZA win in the upcoming elections could initiate a domino-effect in Europe, so that, other EU people begin to support and elect (radical) left parties to govern their countries?

Tariq Ali: Definitely. This will be the impact because SYRIZA will be the first party in Europe elected to power that has done so by challenging the extreme centre that rules Europe and its favoured economic system: a financialised neo-liberalism. With the regional elections in Spain in May we might see an interesting chain reaction and who knows, perhaps the far-left in Portugal and the Left Party in Germany might realize that clinging on to the coat-tails of social-democracy is a recipe for decline and disaster.

5. Migrants in Greece, Spain, Italy and other EU states are gathered in migration camps, under very adverse conditions. How could Left governments in Europe face the migration issue, given the very strict European legal framework?

Tariq Ali: Immigration has become a huge issue because of austerity measures, unemployment, precarious working conditions, etc. The European legal framework (Fortress Europe) is racist as far as non-Europeans are concerned. Syriza and Podemos should openly defend the rights of people whose lives have been wrecked by a US/EU supported planetary globalization. If resources `are released for improving the lives of actually existing citizens it will make it easier to provide help and legal rights for the migrants. When some European politicians from the extreme centre parties justify the deaths by drowning in the seas surrounding Europe on the grounds that this will discourage other immigrants it is not simply the inhumanity that one notices; it is a total failure to understand why people migrate and who creates the conditions. Economic and climate catastrophes coupled with wars initiated by the West are usually the cause in recent years, a classic case is the expulsion of Africans from a post-Ghaddafi Libya created by NATO, many of whom then regrouped in Mali followed by a French military intervention in Mali to save the government.

6. Financial markets are considered to be the omnipotent regulators of politics and democracy itself in some cases. Could it be possible for a left government to clash with market system within the capitalist framework?

Tariq Ali: Yes, that is what is on the agenda today and what the Bolivarian governments in South America have been doing for the last fifteen years with relative success. Market-fundamentalism has led to a sharp decline in democracy (Wolfgang Streek, the German sociologist has explained the process of decline very well in his books and essays) and the Wall Street crash of 2008. What is needed is a combination of regulation, state intervention to take back the public utilities and create and own industries that can help fund the former andsenhanced democracy on every level to ensure popular participation.

This can be our only minimum programme at the present moment.

7. What is your prediction about the future of the European Union?

Tariq Ali: It’s in a very bad state. It subordinated politics to economics and was undemocratic from the very beginning. Blaming ‘lazy Southerners’ for the crisis is grotesque. Its not just the Left which argues this (in fact the Left has been with some exception very weak on the EU), but hedge-fund kings like George Soros who recently said: “My worst fears are confirmed…This is what I was afraid of, that the Euro would be preserved. …pervert the venture, and destroy the European Union. Instead of the solidarity (the EU) was supposed to have embodied, it became every country for itself.” And Pope Francis in the Vatican, to the left of every EU govt today proclaimed that: “The great ideas that inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.” The single-formula approach on the currency union is dead in the waters of the Mediterrenean. An alternative needs to be developed. It would be better if this were done by common agreement, but that is unlikely so new radical governments might have to take unilateral decisions.

I do not think that the EU as constituted at present can last too long. The danger is that if the situation continues as is the governments of the far-right will emerge and so the business putting into the mixture: immigration, the Roma, Islamophobia, etc. The signs are already on the walls of Europe.

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

 

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Memo to Jane Fonda: Will You Please Stop Apologizing? | HOWARD LISNOFF


Speaking Out Against an Illegal War was the True “Noble Cause”

 

On January 16, 2015, Jane Fonda spoke before a group in Frederick, Maryland at the Weinberg Center for the Arts. A spokesperson for the arts center stated that Fonda had been asked to speak because of her success in several roles ranging from acclaimed actress to writer and fitness guru. But that’s not what brought about fifty demonstrators to the center to protest Fonda’s appearance. They were there because of Fonda’s antiwar activism during the Vietnam War that included a trip in 1972 to the capital of North Vietnam, Hanoi, in protest of the U.S. war against the North that had raged for 8 years (The trip included the inspection of dikes bombed during the U.S. air war against the North). Most notable about her appearance in the North was the picture taken of her sitting on top of an anti-aircraft gun that was used by the North in response to the air attacks. Fonda has never recanted her antiwar activism, but in a kind of ritual, she has repeated a nearly endless apology to the veterans of that war, which she called a “huge, huge mistake” at the time of her Maryland speech.

fonda3

Jane Fonda in North Vietnam.

The U.S. air war against Vietnam dropped more bomb tonnage in what was called Operation Rolling Thunder than all of the bombs that had been dropped during World War II. Three million (probably a significantly higher number when the killing in Laos and Cambodia is taken into account) Vietnamese died in the war, as did 58,000 Americans. North and South Vietnam were reunited in 1975 following the North’s rout of South Vietnamese forces. That victory accomplished what the Geneva Accords (separating North from South Vietnam in 1954 with the promise of future elections that never took place) could not do because of successive puppet governments installed by the West following World War II and the failed French war in Vietnam. U.S. forces left Vietnam in 1975 following its unsuccessful war there.

What was most notable about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was its brutality. Words and places such as My Lai, Tiger Force, strategic hamlets, carpet-bombing, free-fire zones, and napalm all have been well-documented by U.S. soldiers who took part in the war and were seared into the memory of those involved and by those who opposed it. That the Vietnamese people were reduced to the racist term “gook” is further evidence of the degradation of that war. The Winter Soldier Investigation, sponsored by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against The War, held in January-February 1971 in Detroit, Michigan, was perhaps the most significant compilation of individuals’ testimonies of the viciousness and brutality of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The testimony of atrocities by the U.S. was so compelling that the Fulbright Hearings were convened in the U.S. Senate in April-May 1971 to further investigate the allegations. Most soldiers who served in Vietnam did not commit atrocities, but a small minority did and those actions were supported at the highest levels of government, punished by what amounted to a slap on the wrist, or ignored by the government.

In May 1970, the war came home to Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State College in Mississippi, when National Guard troops and police (at Jackson State) killed and wounded U.S. students. In fact, the war had come home in many, many ways years earlier. The latter was best documented by Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic in his memoir of the war, Born On The Fourth Of July (1976), that eloquently and powerfully depicts the family and community battles and tensions across this nation that were brought to the surface by the specter of fighting communism in Southeast Asia and a generation that was coming of age to new realizations of how the world could be seen in ways not limited by ideology.

Some of the veterans in Maryland who protested Fonda’s presence called her a traitor because of her appearance in North Vietnam during the war. However, Fonda served the peace movement well during the war and her years of agonizing over her role in the antiwar movement and apologizing to vets has outlived any useful purpose.

The anger of pro-war veterans was used cynically by former President Ronald Reagan who rewrote history and labelled the war a “noble cause” to facilitate his own wars of the 1980s and to put an end to the Vietnam Syndrome (the hesitancy of people in the U.S. to support war following the debacle of Vietnam).

Vietnam represented superpower Machiavellian realpolitik further poisoned with Cold War unthinking anticommunism. Millions lay dead in its lethal wake. And the adversary of the U.S. was a weak nation struggling to reunite after the bloodbath of World War II. Some “noble cause.”

The Vietnam War was the first televised war and its nightly appearance on the 3 television networks that existed at that time was a contributing factor to “hasten” the war’s end. Ordinary people were sickened by what they saw on the nightly news and it did not take an in-depth knowledge of the international laws of war or history to know exactly what the U.S. and its allies got right (and soon forgot during the Cold War) following World War II. What history got right  was enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, the Charter of the United Nations, and the Nuremberg Principles. Article VI of the Principles got it exactly right when it forbid aggression by nations, the ill-treatment and murder of civilians, and the “wanton” destruction of towns, villages, and cities, all hallmarks of the U.S. war in Vietnam. And what is most remarkable in the Principles is that it vested responsibility in both governments and individual soldiers for acts that would become so common during Vietnam. The majority of the antiwar movement in the U.S. was all about pushing back against the notions of the hubris and self-righteousness of war.

In April 1967, exactly one year before being assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his most famous antiwar speech at Riverside Church in New York City. He said,  “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam.’”

When war has come to be accepted as the norm as it has been since 2001 by the endless wars that are now fought in our name; when a vibrant antiwar movement is nowhere to be found; when militarism is second-nature in our society; when military spending (currently $637 billion…almost twice the 2001 figure) goes unquestioned while this society is more unequal by way of income distribution than it has been in decades; and when the reporting of war is done by only the few and at great personal risk, then the example of those who spoke up against war when it was unpopular to do so must be held up as noble and not ridiculed or apologized for.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is a Vietnam-era veteran and was a war resister and activist during that war.

 

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