Dear Mr Tsipras – a letter from Michael Rosen to the Greek Prime Minister

What are politicians for? The majority of them are there to ensure that the ways in which the majority of people are exploited and oppressed carry on. And we despise them for it. Most of them use their opportunity to do this to personally enrich themselves until they die in a haze of over-consumption. You know all this.

Just occasionally, we are delighted when politicians emerge who not only remind us of how venal and disgusting these people are who prop up such an unequal unfair system, but who suggest ways in which this situation can be challenged or even overcome. It happens rather rarely and when it does, it is often difficult for such people to be heard through the din of voices telling us that exploitation and oppression make for a fair and just world. You know all this.

You and your party emerged at a time of great crisis for the Greek people. But when I say the ‘Greek people’, I don’t mean the great moguls, bankers, and property owners – or the previous generations of politicians. I mean the Greek workers, small-time farmers and small-time shop-keepers who do the work to keep Greece going. I’ve only been to Greece twice but I’ve seen the people running fishing boats, tending olive groves, working the ferries, coming out of small-time factories, cleaning, cooking, washing, putting hummus and olives on my table as I sat out at night looking at the sea. These people are in crisis. You know all this.

And you know that it wasn’t these people who borrowed the money. They got up, went to work and went to bed. And when they couldn’t do this in the winter, they travelled to Athens or Italy or Britain or America or wherever to pick up some more work. These people didn’t have the power or the clout to make the big deals that brought in money from Europe. These big deals are made in the money exchanges and stock exchanges and banks by the owners and controllers of big, big money. The people I’m talking about didn’t have the power to do that. They trusted the politicians and the bankers and the rest to be doing the right thing…to make sure that the tourists like me came in and bought their meals and slept in the beds and bought the trinkets and that the people in Europe bought the olives and the olive oil. And for the vast mass of these people, doing this work has never made them rich. They’ve just gone on doing it. Yet up there in the banks and exchanges, a tiny, tiny minority of people did get rich and go on being rich and go on swanning round the world dodging taxes, buying properties, buying and selling money. You know all this.

And you told the world you know this. You won the confidence of the Greek people I’m talking about. They believed that you would find a way for them to not have to pay back the loans they didn’t make. Somehow, you and your party would claw back some of the wealth sloshing around the richest families, somehow you and your party would find a way to tell those in power who want to claw back their losses from the poorest people, to go hang. Lending money is a risky business. Just tell them they lost. Tough. You know all this.

And last weekend, it looked like you pulled off one of the great moves of this kind of politics. You returned to the people and the people told the world that they wouldn’t and couldn’t take the rap for the rich people’s risk-taking. We rejoiced. You know all this.

And yet today, we read that, far from returning to the people and using all your powers of invention and cunning to resist the power of bank notes, and electronic euro-clicking, you seem to have said, yes, the poorest people in Greece – the great majority of Greek people will pay. They will pay with their hands, their hearts, their bodies, their hours of work and extra work and extra extra work. And this mass of labour will produce bit by bit some kind of compensation (is it?) to the great bankers of Europe sitting in their mansions across the world. You know all this.

And you know that no matter what ‘compensation’ these banks receive, in truth, what they win is an affirmation of their own power. They strengthen their warnings and threats to the mass of people of Europe: don’t you ever dare tip up the apple cart, don’t you ever dare suggest that there can be any other way of organising your lives so that you benefit from the work you do. There is only one way: the way whereby you do the work, and we benefit the most. That is the order we live by and we order you to live by it. That was the message they wanted you, Mr Tsipras, to deliver. And surprisingly, shockingly, amazingly, it seems as if you have.

Why? What’s the point? What has been the point of your life? Why have you spent the last five years, being a person who has said the opposite of what you have done today? What’s it all been for? What is a socialist who makes it easier for capitalism to exploit and oppress people? What kind of socialist is that? But then, I fear, you know all this, you know all this, you know all this.

Micheal Rosen

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