Image: Flickr/Lorenzo Gaudenzi

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Outside of Europe, Greece’s battle with the Troika has become a spectacular spectator sport. From the referendum to Tsipras’s capitulation, this story has all the makings of a once-in-a-generation historic event, and it’s far from over.

Throughout the drama, many people have focused on the leadership of SYRIZA. This past week, the dominant themes have been Varoufakis’s resignation and Tsipras’s betrayal.

But for Canadians, the lessons to be learned from the events in Greece should be gleaned from the actions of people on the ground, not at the top. It’s impossible to draw parallels between the Greek left and Canada without a contrived analysis. More importantly, the Left needs to break our obsession with leadership, especially now that popular force has returned to the streets of Athens.

The European Union is an economic arrangement first, and a political relationship second, and has emerged as a modern colonial force, imposing its right-wing vision upon its member states. Member states have agreed to give up extreme elements of their nation’s sovereignty in order to make this project work. This has allowed for the European Central Bank, the EU and the IMF to rule Europe more efficiently than any modern dictator probably could.

The Eurozone, the nations who have adopted the Euro as their currency, has enormous power over the domestic affairs of its member countries. Member nations must pay a fine if they run a budgetary deficit, for example. If members borrow money and have difficulty in paying the money back, the repayment plans usually require broad restructuring that can include selling off state assets and overhauling domestic bank regulations. They’ve perfected hostile takeover without needing to use soldiers or tanks.

While many observers on Twitter argued that that #thisisacoup, it obscured the reality that Greek politicians have consented to the brutal conditions under which their debts to the EU must be repaid.

This consent was not given by SYRIZA. It was given by former Greek governments when they entered the Eurozone and borrowed through its various programs. Like a loanshark showing up to break someone’s legs, the Eurozone is following its own policies in how it’s dealing with Greece, policies that had the approval of Greek politicians.

One of the great failures of SYRIZA is that most of its members have complied with these regulations, now agreeing to an even more brutal austerity package.

There’s a reason why breaking one’s legs isn’t a legal method to force someone repay their loans: you cannot agree to have your own legs broken, regardless of how much money you borrow from Johnny Tightlips. This is especially true if the economic situation that has forced you to borrow was actually worsened by the policies of the agency that will become your creditor.

At the heart of the crisis in Greece is this question: does democracy in Europe exist? When nation-states enter the Eurozone, they bind themselves to the policies of the Eurozone, no referendum required. As was demonstrated last week, if the people vote against the Eurozone’s policies, there’s nothing that compels Greece’s politicians to change course.

Instead of #thisisacoup it’s actually just sophisticated capitalism, where democracy is seen as an anti-market force that needs to be mitigated by anti-democratic measures.

Canada is not immune from these forces. Through NAFTA, the Canadian government has consented to extreme measures that would bind future governments to decisions of extra-parliamentary panels and courts and relinquish most of its control over determining domestic manufacturing policy.

Under NAFTA’s Chapter 11, Canada has been sued more times than any other developed country in the world. Each one of those lawsuits represents a challenge to the supremacy of Canadian law by entities from outside of Canada.

And, while Canada and the U.S. don’t share a currency, our currencies are inextricably linked, forcing Canadian politicians to make decisions based on the strength or weakness of the Canadian dollar, regardless of what’s best for the people.

Now, thanks to our politicians who worship at the altar of profit (regardless of what a backbench MP might say), we’re about to enter into a sweeping trade deal with the European Union that will further entangle our country with the web of protofascist capitalists who find ways to suppress and eliminate democracy.

The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and Europe will create another extra-parliamentary arbitration body that can impose trade decisions on Canada in nearly all sectors. It will flood Canadian markets with European goods thereby squeezing out Canadian producers, prohibit public entities from favouring domestic suppliers and allow for privatization of nearly every aspect of Canada’s public and parapublic sectors.

While opposition to this deal has been fierce from various unions, the Council of Canadians and the CCPA, there has been little done to mobilize people to actively oppose the agreement. It’s therefore unsurprising that the NDP did not come out strongly against the CETA, and the Liberals and Conservatives have stated that they’re committed to pushing for its ratification.

This brings us back to Greece. While politicians have cheered along the integration of the Greek economy in the Eurozone, the people have resisted. And as SYRIZA has voted in favour of crushing austerity measures, the power has again shifted back to the streets.

Democracy can only resist capitalism if it is strong and rooted among the people. Current manifestations of democracy in the West are not powerful enough on their own. Our democracies require popular resistance to push governments to the left, but we can’t kid ourselves either. Progressive politicians are part of a political strategy, not the sum of that strategy.

In Canada, this means building grassroots movements that can fight against trade deals that will undermine or undo our democratic structures.

On Wednesday, July 15, the Greek public sector labour federation ADEDY and many private-sector unions held a 24-hour general strike in protest of the proposed austerity measures. Kevin Ovenden who has been reporting from the ground said that the current electoral divisions over these decisions will likely lead to a new election soon. Regardless of what plays out on the electoral plain, it’s possible that protests and general strikes will have more impact over the negotiations than Greek government officials. In fact, progressives must believe this to be true.

For progressives looking at Greece to learn some lessons, perhaps we could start mobilizing for sector-wide general strikes to defend our democracy, rather than focusing solely on SYRIZA’s errors.


Image: Flickr/Lorenzo Gaudenzi

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Nora Loreto

Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association...