‘The weapon of the poor’: an irate Greek MP just gatecrashed a lecture to call for a default on the country’s debts

by Craig McVegas

17 July 2015

Today Costas Lapavitsas, a professor of economics and a Syriza MP elected in January, commandeered a university conference lecture to deliver his proposals for the direction of the Greek government following its capitulation to EU demands this week.

Lapavitsas has been a prominent critic of the government’s strategy to fight austerity from inside the Eurozone, claiming membership of the monetary union is incompatible with the radical change Greece needs if it is to recover.

Despite a landslide OXI (No) vote in the recent referendum on the Troika’s proposals, on Wednesday the Greek parliament voted to accept a deal remarkably similar to the one rejected. Alongside former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and parliament speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, Lapavitsas was one of about a quarter of Syriza MPs to vote against the bill.

In the impromptu speech, Lapavitsas said Grexit (Greek exit from the Eurozone) is the only solution available to Syriza if it is to be politically consistent and achieve its electoral pledges of alleviation from debt and austerity.

Though not scheduled to speak, it is understood that Lapavitsas asked to be added to the bill of a plenary session at the ‘Democracy Rising’ conference at the University of Athens, organised by the Global Center for Advanced Studies. As speculation and rumour circulated, hundreds of people came in from the 36 degree heat and piled into a sweltering lecture theatre. Unfortunately for the scheduled speakers Lapavitsas stole the limelight, with one guest unceremoniously hurried off-stage by hecklers before the end of his presentation.

Here are the highlights from the intervention:

The current situation.

Lapavitsas began by elaborating on his prognosis of the Greek financial situation following Syriza’s agreement with Greece’s lenders.

Uncompromising in his view that the deal represents a capitulation, he said: “The government of the left has signed Greece up to a neocolonial deal.” He explained that the new measures include reforms and monitoring which will extend beyond 2020, and are recessionary at the moment when Greece is on the brink of recession. Adding that Syriza will have to roll back its existing reforms, he said there is no developmental angle to the package and that inequality is certain to become exacerbated.

In particular, he pointed to the package containing no offer of debt restructuring beyond a minimal time extension, and that debt will actually rise in order to recapitalise the banks.

Syriza’s strategy.

Inside the Eurozone, radical change “is not possible. Period.” As such, Syriza has promised the undeliverable. The situation has been hard, said Lapavitsas, but it is a matter of political judgement: Syriza should have been consistent in its words and actions, which meant voting against the bill in the Greek parliament.

If Syriza is to regain any chance of fulfilling its mandate (and reimplementing the laws passed since January which it is now forced to repeal), then withdrawing from the agreement – resulting in Grexit – is the only option.

The oligarchy wins.

The only winner from the present situation is the Greek oligarchy, which you can tell from the way the Greek media advocated a NAI (Yes) vote so strongly during the referendum. The rich voted Yes, the poor voted No – the latter accounting for over 80% of young people. Lapavitsas was clear that the referendum was a class issue. As is…


There’s plenty of ideology surrounding the Eurozone, but fundamentally it’s an institutional mechanism which operates to the benefit of a few countries.

As such, Lapavitsas suggested that if you’re hoping Podemos getting elected in Spain later this year will give Greece a boost in the Eurozone, you’ll be waiting a long time. The monetary union has been disastrous for Greece, and the only solution is to break it.

If you’re reading this thinking about the UK’s upcoming EU membership referendum, it’s worth noting that Lapavitsas wasn’t advocating leaving the political union, just the shared currency.

The plan.

So how should Syriza proceed? Lapavitsas said there is a viable plan; it just hasn’t been used. It needs thought and development, but most of all it needs political will. Twitter says the Troika’s deal represents a coup; Lapavitsas says the plan would represent a regime break.

There are six parts:

  1. Default (“the weapon of the poor”) as the first step towards a debt write-off.
  2. Renationalisation of the banks (“appoint a public commissioner … and ask the private managers to go home”).
  3. Continue bank and capital controls, but properly operated so working people and small businesses can function.
  4. Stock conversation to a new currency.
  5. Organise the supply of products (“oil, medicine and food”) with proper planning (“obviously if you’re thinking of doing this on Monday morning and the first you thought of it was Sunday night, it’s going to be difficult, I agree”).
  6. Decide how to operate a stable, devalued exchange rate.

Lapavitsas said he’s looked at simulations and econometrics, but when you’re talking about changing structures those predictions become fairly valueless. He said no one knows either way for certain, and anyone who claims as such doesn’t know what they’re talking about. His personal expectation would be that the first three months would be the most difficult, after which things will become better. He expects positive growth after about 12-18 months, after which growth will be more rapid. This is the road of wisdom, and will enable actual social change and justice.

Q&A: The future of Syriza.

After a minute-long ovation, the audience was invited to contribute. Questions ranged from how politicians will speak to working class anger to getting Syriza MPs to adopt the strategy Lapavitsas outlined. Others asked why this strategy should be believed over others that politicians propose, and some questioned Lapavitsas’s own position and legitimacy.

To say the say this part of the event became hectic might be an understatement. Poor facilitation meant audience members began shouting and then screaming from the floor. On having his integrity disputed, Lapavitsas yelled that he is accountable to his (multi-member) constituency where he came top of the list.

One of the original panellists, the socialist academic Leo Panitch, stated his agreement with Lapavitsas but said such a strategy would split Syriza and should be left until a later time. This was met at first by tutting and heckling from the crowd, and screaming from one audience member. When he was told to calm down, a fight almost broke out on the auditorium steps. Lapavitsas protested that no one from the Left Platform (a faction in Syriza advocating Grexit) wanted to split the party they founded, but angrily insisted that the issue for the future of Syriza is whether the party will accept measures it has fought for five years.

The lecture was brought to an abrupt close, with emotions and the room temperature both running extremely high. When Syriza was campaigning before the January election, its slogan was ‘Hope is Coming’. This didn’t feel hopeful; it felt tense, regrettable and bitter.

I approached Lapavitsas on the steps outside the university building. I thanked him for coming and wished him well in trying to hold the leadership to its word. He said, “Time will tell, but we can hope.”

Further resources:

The author’s live-tweets from the event.

A recording of the lecture and Q&A.

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