Stalin and Mao

It takes a certain level of judgement to look back on Stalinist Russia and decide that sounds like a good idea. This was the conclusion made by Tsipras in the 90s, no less. Some of his allies are genuine Maoists. I got the first taste of this when I was woken up by shouting in Thessaloniki many years ago and saw a legitimate communist rally taking place. Who knew communism was still a thing!

Tsipras has smothered his behaviour in the language of democracy. He is the freedom fighter for all Europe, the same way  Putin is the enemy of all fascists.

Tsipras could have used this referendum as a negotiating ploy but he didn’t. He had a direct line to Merkel but slapped her in the face by not even broadcasting his intentions hours before.

He could have called a referendum for last week and spared the suffering Greeks a week of capital controls. He could have called a vote on a proposal that actually exists, but he did not. This election is a sham. Tsipras has no obligation to leave if he loses.

Who is this guy? When Tsipras first formed a government  he might have joined with moderate pro-European allies on the left. Instead he formed an alliance with the far right, and made their leader the head of Defence. This is not the action of a hinged man. This is the action of someone for whom the means justify the ends, as they did for Mao, Stalin, Trotsky and the other men honoured by Syriza.

Syriza is manned by the descendants of losers of the Greek civil war. They were the first to be burned by US napalm in 1948. They were  locked up under the military dictatorship with all the  tortures, abuses and indignities dished out by US puppet states half a century ago. Syriza is not part of the Greek establishment. They were the losers of the modern era.

Tsipras’s allies are in Russia and Venezuela, his heroes the rogues and scoundrels of the early-to-mid 20th century Left. He was never here to compromise.

It’s not a good idea to think politicians are stupid – there is usually some kind of plan. Even seemingly dumb operators like Abbott and Gillard are surprisingly effective when you look at what they actually achieve. The only plan consistent with his  random and constantly surprising moves is to break Greece from Europe and align it with different friends, with a different style of government and with the freedom from the EU to set its own radical path. In this context the circus of the recent ‘negotiations’ makes plenty of sense.

Greeks should not fear leaving the EU half as much as what Tsipras and his radical Syrizans would do if unconstrained by the EU. The next election is 2019 where Tsipras can actually be booted out is 2019. Most of the Greeks I know would prefer to live in London than Moscow, and will surely vote that way.

Tsipras has already intensified the blistering poverty of Greece (those overgenerous pensions are about 500 euros a month). We can at least be thankful that so far he has proved better than his idols.

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Getting close

For the past few years I’ve always thought the Greek exit fears were way overblown. That now seems optimistic.

There have been some cringey moments from the Greeks. The first was Varoufakis parading around European like a university student.
When Tsipras replaced him on the negotiating team I thought that was an excellent sign: Tsipras showed restraint, authority and distance. He could have easily positioned himself as the statesman behind the scenes and continued to intervene when his negotiators got too excited. But lately he himself has come across as hysterical.
At the end of every meeting the news is leaked that the Syrizans tried to convince their counterparts to release a memo saying progress was made.
The fact this has been consistently refused – when the bar for progress would be so low – is concerning. It’s also revealing of the characters of the Greeks involved. Why waste energy and public conflict on something that is form rather than substance?
 
There has been a lot of talk about ‘game theory’, ‘prisoner’s dilemmas’ and so on.
This has totally backfired. There is certainly insight to be gained from these kind of thought experiments. But it is at the margin. If Varoufakis and Tsipras thought there was a way to game their counterparties – who have decades more experience
I jumped on the bandwagon and read ‘Thinking fast and slow’ by Kahneman after it was widely praised. It was certainly interesting, but by the end of it something just wasn’t quite right. Can we really draw so much insight from experiments designed with a handful of participants making faux gambling decisions? There is more to this world of ours than that.
The Greeks have attempted to play a tough negotiating game as their theory recommends – but this will not be decided by old suited men playing cards, or deciding whether to buy now or later. It will be decided by popular opinion, the wave of which all these politicians ride.
It’s another demonstration of the failure of academics in politics. Witness Miliband, his college advisors and his bizarre rhetoric. The only people more annoying than student politicians are student politicians who don’t grow up.
There is now limited time for the Greeks, and almost no goodwill. Syriza has played for domestic political support but lost the argument overseas.
On all the key metrics – unemployment, bank deposits, GDP – there has been a stepwise change for the worse. The Greeks who supported Syriza deserve better.
It didn’t have to be this way. Funnily enough a major part of their failure has been form, rather than substance. A little more respect to institutions they are asking money from might have actually helped.