Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 28, 2015

Continuing the conversation about IT and the Grexit

Filed under: computers,Greece — louisproyect @ 3:32 pm

Apparently my brief reference to Australian economics professor emeritus Bill Mitchell’s failure to mention the IT aspects of Grexit in a Naked Capitalism article touched a nerve. In a 3500 word article that appeared on his blog on Friday, July 24th he minimized the challenges and appealed to his own authority as an IT professional to drive his case home. He also took up some points in my article that weren’t really directed at him, particularly my brief remarks around the question of a Grexit not being sufficient to bring an end to austerity.

I did not have Dr. Mitchell in mind when I made that point. Furthermore, I don’t think that there is that much difference between us on the economic questions but as I will now point out we are still far apart on the IT implications of a Grexit that I will now explain.

To start with, he groups me with the sensationalistic media reports on Y2K that warned about Armageddon as if I or any other seasoned professional really worried about such an outcome. He also alludes to the opportunistic sales pitches from consulting companies anxious to get their foot in the door to help firms large and small avoid a Y2K catastrophe but at a steep price. If you were part of the permanent staff in any large organization like Columbia University, you had a very clear idea about how to do a Y2K conversion without tears.

Furthermore, I am quite sure that given sufficient time, funding and personnel, the conversion to the drachma is feasible. But the purpose of my article was not to argue that it was impossible. It was only to alert a lay audience what kind of challenge it represented. For those who have not managed large-scale project implementations, it was easy to imagine that such a conversion could take place in something like a few months. But I am convinced that it would probably take no less than three years based on my 44 year experience managing, designing, programming and testing mission-critical applications in a variety of banks, brokerage houses, and insurance companies. That was about what it took to go from national currencies to the euro and I would expect that it would take about the same amount of time to reverse engineer the process.

Perhaps nothing captures Dr. Mitchell’s unfamiliarity with the IT challenges facing a euro-to-drachma conversion than what he has to say about Y2K:

As the Naked Capitalism author notes it was really about software that had used two numbers to designate the year (MMDDYY) instead of four (MMDDYYYY). Several straightforward computer changes were made to resolve the possible problems depending on the situation (date expansion, date re-partitioning in overfull databases, windowing patches etc). Very trivial.

I did a double-take when I read this. Very trivial? Well, it is very trivial to expand the year from two digits to four digits but that was never the challenge. In fact Dr. Mitchell completely ignored what I wrote, namely that the task of finding the code was like looking for a needle in haystack. At Columbia University we divided up thousands of programs and assigned programmers to search through thousands of lines within each program to track down a six-digit date and convert it to eight digits. It took 10 seconds to modify each date when it was found but it took the better part of a year to find them all. To repeat, a search for any field of data that had “date” in its name was straightforward but what if a programmer labeled it “dt” or even “d”? Furthermore, what if a piece of data identified as “admission_date” is moved into a temporary field called “admission_temp”? You have to track the movement of data within the entire program to be sure that you had all bases covered. This was a laborious task that took us the better part of a year. It also took another year for IT to test all of the modified programs to make sure that the integrity of the data was preserved.

Greece would run into the same challenges in a euro to drachma conversion but likely would not have the kind of infrastructure that a well-endowed Ivy university was able to rely on. Given the economic desperation and chaotic conditions that Greek firms large and small operate within, it is a serious mistake to use one’s influence to persuade policy-makers to leap without looking first.

Continuing in his best case scenario vein, Dr. Mitchell dismisses the possibility that hard-coded values in a program constitute a major hurdle:

The issue is simple. Rules for determining eligibility for a service (mortgage etc) might have thresholds hard-coded into the computer system. So if your bank balance is above 1000 you qualify for a loan. Good programming clearly creates variable definitions (say, $threshold = 1000) in easy to find and edit part of the system and then uses symbolic references ($threshold) throughout the rest of the system so that when the threshold might require alteration there is one data entry required which feed the old system.

Yes, we are all for “good programming” but my experience over the years is that there is enough space between “good programming” and the actual code in legacy systems to steer an ocean liner through. In the ideal world, a hard-coded value is never used. For example, as Dr. Mitchell points out, it is good practice to define an external variable such as $threshold but in practice Cobol programmers (the language of choice in most financial applications) tend to take shortcuts because they are always under the gun to meet a deadline. So instead of defining an external variable that can be modified in a single location, they will test for ’10000’ or whatever. Since the software in Greek banks is likely to be decades old, I doubt that the “good programming” practices hailed in computer science classes find much reflection within them. In fact, Mitchell expresses a surprising degree of naiveté when he writes:

So if there is a lot of ‘hard-coding’ in the Greek financial and business systems it would require some work. The reference the Naked Capitalism article uses was written in 1999 and relevant to rather dated practices and the big challenge of converting all the currencies into the euro and all the different national business systems into an integrated set of systems that could cope with the common currency.

I would suspect the assessment that there is a lot of ‘hard-coding’ now would be amiss. Business systems have become much more sophisticated and homogenised in the 16 years since that article was written.

But the point is that when Greece went from the drachma to the euro in 2002, it was practically preordained that the modifications would be made to existing software that might have been written in the 1980s or earlier. Why would Greek banks have written an entirely new Direct Demand Accounting system in that period? Yes, business systems have become more sophisticated since the year 2000 but you can be assured that those that serve the mission-critical needs of Greek banks are decades old.

I should add that although I worked on mainframes for 23 years, the last 21 were spent at Columbia in leading edge technologies of the sort that he describes as “sophisticated” and “homogenized”. When I was hired by Columbia University in 1991, it was to make recommendations about exactly such technologies in my capacity as Development Technology Coordinator. Later on, once such technologies were adopted, I had over 15 years experience designing and programming financial applications in Java using the Struts framework. Additionally, I supported that application’s Sybase backend using Perl and other Unix-based tools. Finally, part of my retirement contract involved being available on a contingency basis for technical support as the need arose. Even now I stay in touch with my colleagues to give them my take on future IT directions.

Dr. Mitchell also seems to have missed the point I was making about historical data:

These include the historical presentation of records, for example, bank statements. These problems were already encountered and solved in the transition to the euro. There is no reason to suspect that any new issues have arisen. The Bank of Greece knows how to do this and could easily issue a procedural manual to the commercial banks and other financial institutions.

But my point was that ad hoc software would have to be developed to modify historical data. For example, just to repeat myself, if the United States elected a Marxist president and adopted a new currency called the Rosa that was pegged 10 Rosas to the dollar, you would have to develop software that went through the databases to multiply all occurrences of each cash-based data store by 10. (Let’s hope we’ll see that someday.)

Finally, if I understand Mitchell correctly, he seems to be saying that you could dust off the pre-euro conversion software from 1999 or so and use it to replace current-day systems. That would be fine if there had been no modifications made in the past 16 years to incorporate new business rules. But as we know financial applications are highly dynamic since the industry is always sensitive to opportunities that can always boost corporate profits to the disadvantage of the poor customer. Who knows? Maybe when the entire world converts to the Rosa, or even when money is no longer necessary, we will not have to face such problems but in the meantime reality must govern all major policy decisions, including ones that revolve around information technology—the nervous system of any modern economy.

July 22, 2015

Once again on the IT challenges in converting to the drachma

Filed under: computers,Greece — louisproyect @ 6:48 pm

On July 14th I wrote an article titled “Convert to the drachma–piece of cake. Right…” that was a first take on the difficulties in implementing a Grexit from an IT standpoint. Since then I have tracked down a number of high-level strategic planning documents written in the late 90s that give me a much better handle on what those difficulties amount to. Except for the folks at Naked Capitalism who reposted my original article, there are very few people on the left who have any inkling of the problem. One of them is Robert Urie who alluded to it in a recent CounterPunch article:

A central difference between Argentina and Greece is that ‘all’ that Argentina had to do was to break the peg (fixed currency exchange ratio) with the USD while implementation of the Euro was a massive technological undertaking that replaced the Greek technology and institutions that supported the drachma. In the event of a forced Greek exit recovery of these technologies and institutions would take time that the Greeks don’t have. Breakdown of the supply-chain— the integrated economic relations that together facilitate economic production, causes a cascade effect where once lost, has to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Instead what I have mainly heard is that it is much more of a piece of cake than my article would suggest. For example, Canadian leftist Ken Hanley, who wrote an article titled “The German Grexit plan may have been the lesser of two evils”, commented: “The creditors were able to develop a Grexit plan. Schaeuble even presented a Grexit plan as an alternative to deal and many think that his whole plan was to force a Grexit.” He also referred me to an article by an Australian economist that assured his readers “A Greek exit is not rocket science”. Well, it might not be rocket science but computer science is certainly relevant notwithstanding the economist’s failure to refer to IT once in his article.

The same shortcoming exists in an article that has been embraced by many on the left as a recipe for overcoming austerity. Titled “Greece: Alternatives and Exiting the Eurozone” and written by Eric Toussaint, who works with the Committee to Abolish Third World Debt, it makes very useful recommendations but once again neglects to mention anything about IT.

Now my point in referring to these difficulties was never to support staying in the Eurozone. It was primarily intended to alert the left about the dangers of thinking in terms of short-term solutions. Furthermore, my own position is that Greece’s difficulties have more to do with the underlying economy rather than what currency it uses. Some Marxists, who have been sharply critical of Tsipras, appear to understand what this means. For example, In Defense of Marxism, warned:

Some people have argued that if Greece is pushed out of the Euro this could eventually provide a solution to its economic problems. That is naïve in the extreme, not to say irresponsible. The question would still remain: what kind of an economy, run by whom and on the interests of whom?

Let us assume that the new currency is called the drachma. What will happen to it? It will fall like a stone because nobody will want to hold it. That will cause prices to rise steeply, even hyper-inflation, as in Germany in 1923. People’s savings will be wiped out. There will be a deep slump and even more unemployment.

Moreover, if Greece is forced out of the Euro, it will also find itself out of the European Union. The European bourgeois will not want to see its markets invaded by Greek goods made cheaper by the inevitable fall of the drachma (or whatever other currency is chosen). It will be necessary to take very drastic measures in order to avoid an economic catastrophe. Half measures will be useless. One cannot cure cancer with an aspirin.

I also thought that the Belgian Trotskyists of the LCR-SAP had good advice:

  1. Leaving the Euro is not a sufficient condition to break with austerity (as the case of Britain proves) but, in the Greek case, for the countries of the periphery and those which are not in the heart of the euro zone, it is clearly a requirement.
  2. The need to break with the euro does not imply making leaving the euro the central axis of an alternative programme. Even in Greece, where the question arises in a burning and immediate way, the axis of the alternative programme must be the rejection of any austerity and the implementation of social, ecological, anticapitalist and democratic policies, which directly improve the fate of workers, young people, women, the victims of racism, and the peasants.
  3. To make leaving the euro the axis of the alternative would be to run up unnecessarily against the very generally-held idea that the currency is only “neutral” technical means of allowing trade, whereas it is in fact also the crystallization of a social relationship. To make leaving the euro (or the EU) the axis of the battle would be also to play the game of the hard-line and far right, by spreading the illusion that a harmonious socio-economic-ecological development would be possible within the national framework. This illusion harms internationalist solidarity. However, this is crucial not only for the fight in Greece, but also because the integration of the economies on the continent requires a European anticapitalist perspective to satisfy social needs and to answer the urgent ecological needs.

Before moving on to the technical aspects of a Grexit, I should say a few words about my background. Even though my regular readers know that I worked in IT for 44 years, it might be useful to mention something about my experience.

To start with, before I began working at Columbia University in 1991, most of my work experience was in financial applications. I worked for five different banks: FNB of Boston, Texas Commerce Bank, Irving Trust, United Missouri Bank (where I programmed ATM’s) and Chase Manhattan. I also worked for investment banks: Salomon Brothers and Goldman-Sachs. Finally, in the 21 years I was at Columbia University, most of the time was spent working on the financial system used for purchases, general ledger and the like. Back in 1998, part of my workload over a two year period was to evaluate legacy software to identify changes needed to accommodate the arrival of 2000, a technical challenge that was dwarfed by Eurozone conversion that I will now explain.

The following documents were key to the observations I will be making:

  1. Daniel O’Leary, “The Impact of the Euro on Information Systems”, Journal of Information Systems Vol. 13, No. 2, Fall 1999. (https://msbfile03.usc.edu/digitalmeasures/doleary/intellcont/Impact%20of%20Euro-1.pdf). I referred to this in my original article.
  2. Pieter Dekker, “Preparing Information Systems for the Euro”, a sixty page white paper prepared for the European Commission on the Eurozone in September 1997. (http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/accounting/docs/markt-1997-7038/7038_en.pdf)
  3. Patrick O’Beirne, “Managing Risk in Euro Currency Conversion”, Cutter IT Journal, 1998 (http://www.sysmod.com/eurorisk.pdf). This is basically a shorter version of the Dekker article above with a useful bibliography referring to other material in this vein.
  4. Rainer Gimnich, “Analysis and Conversion Tools for Euro Currency Migration”, Workshop on Software Reengineering, May 1999. (http://www.uni-koblenz.de/~ist/RWS99/beitraege/Gimnich.pdf)

To start with, it would be useful to understand what took place in a Y2K migration. In many programs written in the 60s and 70s, when the year 2000 seemed like a long way off, dates were formatted as MMDDYY. This meant if you were trying to establish whether a bond would mature in five years, you’d subtract something like 07/22/67 from 07/22/72 but when 2000 arrived, how could you determine whether 07/22/04 meant 1904 or 2004? The answer was to wade through millions of lines of code and expand MMDDYY to MMDDYYYY.

In a computer program, every field of data is uniquely named. This means searching in a COBOL program for something like “date_today” is pretty simple. But what if a programmer called it dt_today instead? Of course, you might figure out that “dt” means date but some lazy programmer might have written it as “tdy”.

You will have the same problem, of course, with a euro to drachma conversion. Searching for the Greek equivalent of “amount” or “amt” becomes a drain on any IT staff.

A conversion from a local currency to the euro was a whole order of magnitude more difficult when it comes to converting currency amounts, even when they are identified. For nations such as Spain that did not have a decimal based currency like the euro, the rounding became a challenge. Since this did not apply to the drachma, a simple replacement might be in order and that would be the end of it.

However, the big problem was testing for a hard-coded amount parameter as I tried to explain on Naked Capitalism underneath the crossposting of my original article:

For example, there might be tests to see if a customer has sufficient funds to be qualified for a mortgage. A program might conceivably mark it as eligible if there were 10,000 euros in the account. Switching to a drachma might make everybody eligible–not that there’s anything wrong with that obviously–but you can see that this is not a simple matter. Just being able to handle a drachma instead of a euro does not mean that software is meeting expectations. You have to do a BUSINESS analysis, which is the first stage in any systems implementation.

As it turned out, the Gimnich article listed above makes an identical point:

In many cases, amounts are hard-coded in the application programs. For instance, statements of the kind IF amt_1 < 1000 THEN … appear quite often. Here, the threshold value is simply used as a constant in the program: no symbolic constant, no variable declaration, no external amount table read.

Assuming that Greece’s programmers could convert programs to handle the drachma rather than a euro, this would mean that you could start withdrawing a new currency from an ATM on day one. And at the end of the month, you’ll get a bank statement with amounts designated in the new currency with the proper currency symbol, etc. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Any bank maintains a history of transactions for all customers that are used for determining loan eligibility, etc. Your account might have the proper data from the day when the drachma conversion took place going forward but what about the ten years or so of prior transaction history which were denominated in euros? A suite of programs would have to be written to manage the conversion of historical data. This is not a minor task since identifying which files contain such data requires plowing through an enormous IT inventory. Since documentation is always given short shrift in the corporate world, expect major technological hiccups or even heart attacks.

The tasks described above are properly administered in an IT department, which is centrally controlled but that’s not the end of it. Ever since the advent of personal computers, there are huge amounts of mission-critical data that are not maintained by the IT staff. The finance department of any modern corporation is overflowing with PC-based spreadsheets that are used for budgeting, etc. All of these spreadsheets will have to be evaluated for their criticality and converted to the drachma if need be. Once again, a major task.

In August 2001, Computerworld, a trade magazine I read for many years before retiring, described the risks facing small and medium sized businesses that had not gotten up to speed on the euro conversion:

Pollard said the unpreparedness of vendors and suppliers won’t create a catastrophe in the European marketplace, but it will cause supply chain slowdowns and force some small and medium-size businesses to revert to using paper invoices, bound ledgers and filing cabinets.

But Noel Hepworth, head of the euro conversion project at the European Federation of Accountants (FEE), an industry trade group in London, said companies that aren’t ready will quickly be forced out of business by large manufacturers that will refuse to deal with them.

Think about what this would mean for Greece as its businesses tried to do the same thing in reverse. This nation has a huge proportion of smaller firms. It will be exactly those that will be forced out of business if they can’t make the cut. If adopting the drachma will lead to a sharp devaluation as all experts predict, those businesses will be rotten ripe for buying up by foreign investors looking to make a killing.

Now in the long run, it might not matter that all these problems lie in store. It is probably the case that leaving the Eurozone is a necessary first step to escaping the clutches of the German bankers, the IMF and all other predatory institutions. But the left does not look good by minimizing the technical challenges. Most of all, it is worth remembering what Lenin wrote in “State and Revolution”, which is just applicable to a state embarking on an anti-austerity program based on neo-Keynesian principles as it was to the infant USSR:

We are not utopians, we do not “dream” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and “foremen and accountants”.

I would only add programmers to the people Lenin identified above.

July 15, 2015

Greece: the scissors trap

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

(This was posted on FB by Jeff Richards. It overlaps with my article on the drachma conversion issues.)

Greece: The scissors trap.

The story of why Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras changed his mind in the July 2015 negotiations with the European Union will, I am sure, be revealed by memoirs and investigative reporting in the future. At present any political assessment must be provisional. I am not one of those on the radical left (and the radical right in the case of Nigel Farage) who are now letting off a lot of steam with cries of ‘treachery’ or ‘betrayal’ etc. etc. etc.

Former Finance minister in the Syriza government Yanis Varoufakis, in a wide ranging interview with Phillip Adams on the radio programme Late Night Live alluded to one of the reasons why Tsipras recommitted himself to negotiations with the EU. Grexit would have required a new currency, a new Drachma. The task of creating a new currency is a very big organisational undertaking. Adams reminded the listener the vast logistical operation that was required to implement a new currency in Iraq following the invasion of that country by the Bush and Blair administrations.

Varoufakis said in the interview that the new Syriza government did have plans to opt for a new currency and they had assigned a special committee to look into the matter. That committee consisted of five members, whereas Varoufakis said that they would need to have a minimum of 500 personnel to take the process of a new currency to the next level. The reason why the finance ministry (which Varoufakis was leading at the time) did not take it to this next stage was the fear that setting up such a government department would harm the negotiations with the EU ministers. So the Greek government was caught in a trap, on the one hand trying to negotiate with intransigent ministers and hoping to exploit internal divisions within the EU -between Germany and France- and on the other hand not trying to do anything that might harm the negotiations with the EU (like being seen to be creating a new currency).

Greece exiting the European Currency Union (which is not the same as the European Union) is not an impossibly difficult task. It is however, a major logistical operation that would require the full mobilisation of the resources of the state, and the backing of the citizenry to implement. Syriza have alway indicated that it was their intention to try to negotiate and remain in the Euro with improved conditions. Plan B would have been to create a new currency. Syriza were simply unprepared for plan B, and were left with no option but to swallow the poison and hope they will survive without the country descending into a nazi revival. In many ways, it is an understandable why Syriza were caught unprepared. The relative newness in government, the enormity of the problems they were faced with, the urgent need to focus on meeting the needs of those left destitute by the policies of previous right wing governments. Most speculatively, I wondered if the lack of party cadres with limited experience in managing governments and state bureaucracies also played a role in the ‘turnaround’ by Tsipras.

July 14, 2015

Greece and the Underdevelopment of Europe

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 9:32 pm

Greece has been relegated to the ranks of Somalia, Honduras, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe by becoming the first European country to default on an IMF loan. The €1.6bn missed payment is also the largest ever by an IMF member. Popular rhetoric has blamed the situation on inherent Greek profligacy, displayed by their early pension schemes and special interests. This narrative carries the echo of the lazy conflations between the nature of places and its peoples that underpinned the earliest European imperial adventures.Columbus’ travel diaries reveal how he drew on a theory of place offered by Albertus Magnus and Pierre d’Ailly to equate the differing temperature and climates of the ‘new’ and ‘old’ worlds with differing levels of humanity to be granted to the European and non-European. For Columbus, the natives of the new world were inherently childlike due to their plentiful surroundings; hence they could not be treated as equals. Likewise, we now hear talk of the lazy, petulant and irresponsible nature of the Greek people, whose sunny climate explains their inability to adopt the protestant work ethic of the industrious Prussians.The reality is, according to the OECD, that the average Greek worker has worked 48% more hours than the average German worker; the source of the crisis is a failing of the international financial system. Ever since the IMF “assisted” Greece in 2010, the Greek economy has been in depression. 25% of its GDP has been lost under structural adjustment programs labelled “austerity packages.” 90% of Greece’s IMF debt went directly to repay other European institutions.

via Greece and the Underdevelopment of Europe.

Convert to the drachma–piece of cake. Right…

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 5:40 pm

One of the things that’s been nagging away at the back of my mind in this ongoing discussion about leaving the Eurozone is what that means in terms of following through. I think that the average person on the left who considers this to be a sine qua non for Greece moving forward has no idea of what’s involved. It is not just printing new currency and delivering it to the banks. It is also a mammoth undertaking from the IT standpoint. Think in terms of what it would take to reverse engineer something like this:

NY Times, March 9 1998
A Year Before the Millennium Bug, There’s the Euro Problem
By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN

LONDON, March 8— Amid the rush to reprogram the world’s computers so that they will function after Jan. 1, 2000, a little-known computer problem looms as large with a deadline that is even earlier.

On Jan. 1, 1999, the European Monetary Union will introduce the euro, a new currency that could have serious consequences for the computer systems of financial institutions and just about any company that deals in foreign currencies and exchange rates.

Compared with the much-publicized year 2000 problem, which can set computer clocks back to 1900 instead of recognizing 2000, the euro poses a greater number of technological problems.

Exchange-rate and tax software will need to be upgraded, financial statements redesigned, automated teller machines revamped and historical data converted — and that is just scratching the surface.

”The magnitude of the problem the euro poses is unbelievable,” said Nick Jones, research director of the Gartner Group Europe, part of the Gartner Group Inc., a technology advisory and research firm. ”In terms of cost to fix, it is comparable with the year 2000.”

The Gartner Group estimates that it will cost European corporations, many of which have operations worldwide, $150 billion to $400 billion to upgrade their systems. Add to that the expenses in fixing the millennium bug, and that cost almost doubles. Mr. Jones said the cost of fixing each line of code is estimated at $1.10, with billions of lines of code having to be changed.

As someone who worked in IT for 44 years and on some very large scale projects such as developing a completely new system from top to bottom for Goldman-Sachs, this is a huge project that would require banks and any other large-scale corporations in Greece to manage. And that does not get into the problems that the civil service would have to deal with. Pension systems, the tax system, et al would have to be reprogrammed.

I now realize that when people were demanding that Syriza conduct a two-tier operation, one that sought an end to austerity within the Eurozone, and another on a parallel track that would switch over to the drachma, they had no idea what this would entail. Frankly, I don’t think that Greece is capable of converting to the drachma today even if the government voted for it. Billions of dollars would be required to do such a conversion and the cash-starved government agencies would even have less money for such a project than private corporations.

I have heard what seems like dozens of leftists complaining about Alexis Tsipras’s failure to deliver a contingency plan. These are people who almost certainly have never sat in cubicle and programmed a financial system in COBOL as I did for twenty years before I moved over to UNIX based systems at Columbia University.

My good friend Liza Featherstone complained on Facebook this morning: “Seriously every dude is a Greece expert now. How’d you all get so smart so fast?” Boy, was she ever right.

* * * *

Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 13, No. 2, Fall 1999
pp. 105–116

The Impact of the Euro on Information Systems
Daniel E. O’Leary, University of Southern California

Accounting Information System Requirements Brought About by the Euro The introduction of the euro will have a wide range of changes in requirements for accounting information systems (e.g., Dekker [1997] and others).

1. Legacy systems will require multiple updates. Unlike present day relational database systems, many legacy systems redundantly store data items (e.g., currency figures). In these systems, all instances of each redundantly stored currency data item will need to be updated to the same euro figure.

2. Systems must do triangulation. All those systems using processes related to currency exchanges, will have to be updated to reflect changes in the way conversion is done, using triangulation, rather than traditional inversion conversion.

3. Multiple currencies. Since both euro and local currencies can be used during the transition period, systems will need to allow recording and display of both home currency and the euro for each transaction. Inventories of both currencies will need to be kept as long as both are used. The existence of multiple currencies potentially exposes a company to the risk that payments are made in the wrong amounts of a currency. For example, as in Table 3, a bill for 302,706 euros incorrectly might be paid as 4,211,213 euros if clerks use the wrong currency amount.

4. Minor payment differences. Systems will need to be changed to accommodate minor differences in payments. Since customers can pay their bills in either euros or the home country currency, triangulation rounding can create a situation where there are differences in the equivalent between what is billed and what is paid when different currencies are involved. Few systems have been built to accommodate differences in payments and what is billed. Further, few systems currently accommodate billing in one currency and payment in another (Software Echo 1997). In addition, such differences will carry forward to the general ledger, which will also have to accommodate minor differences.

5. Restatement of financial reports. Firms must restate previous financial statements in euros, which raises other questions including the following: Who determines whether historical numbers will need to be restated? How much of the historical data will be restated? Will firms have the restated historical numbers attested to?

6. Inconsistent use of decimals. In some monetary systems, e.g., Belgium and Italy, decimal places are not used. As a result, systems designed for these currencies will need to be updated to accommodate the euro’s decimal places.

7. Number of decimal places. Not only is the existence of decimal places an issue, but also the number of decimal places is an issue. In order to assure that rounding is done at the appropriate level, six decimal places are required to accommodate the euro.

8. Input validation will need to accommodate multiple currencies. Input validation will need to change to accommodate the existence of a new currency and multiple currencies. Reconciliation tests will need to allow for and accommodate differences due to rounding.

9. Internal documents. Typically, most of a firm’s documents, input, and output will need to be changed to accommodate the multiple currencies.

10. Reporting capabilities. Reporting capabilities will need to be examined closely. For example, reports are often based on currency values exceeding some “threshold” amount. In some cases firms will need to change the bases of those thresholds to accommodate the euro. In addition, reports will often need to have the ability to display two or three currencies simultaneously.

11. Currency fonts will need updating. Finally, currency fonts will need to be updated to include the new symbol for the euro. Apparently, Microsoft has announced that it will accommodate the euro symbol in its 32 bit applications, but not in legacy applications, such as Windows 3.1 (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/euro.asp).

full: https://msbfile03.usc.edu/digitalmeasures/doleary/intellcont/Impact%20of%20Euro-1.pdf

 

July 5, 2015

Greece by the numbers

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 6:19 pm

I am sure my readers have been following the referendum but just to make sure, “Oxi” means “no” to the German pig bankers and their regime thugs:

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Turning to another matter involving Greece and the numbers, there’s a book review in today’s NY Times of “The Full Catastrophe” by WSJ reporter James Evangelos about the Greek crisis. It was reviewed by Joshua Hammer, a one-time Newsweek bureau chief. You can probably figure out that the book and the reviewer were on the same page ideologically.

While Hammer refrains from the open hostility toward the Greek government that you’d expect from a Times contributor, there was one passage that struck my eye:

To understand what led Greece to such a predicament, Angelos visits Zakynthos, off the western coast of the Peloponnese, mockingly anointed the “Island of the Blind” after nearly 2 percent of the population — nine times the estimated rate for most European countries — was found to be receiving benefit payments for sightlessness. Angelos discovers a scheme to defraud the ministry of health that extends from the single public hospital’s sole ophthalmologist to the former prefect who signed off on the payments, one of many such social-welfare scams that cost the Greek government billions of euros.

On the island of Hydra, Angelos tells of an undercover raid on a portside taverna that drew national attention to a common Greek pastime, tax evasion, and the halfhearted and inequitable attempts of the government in the post-bailout era to crack down on cheats. “The pervasiveness of the habit, and the government’s enduring unwillingness to do anything about it, was more than any other factor the cause of Greece’s financial troubles,” Angelos observes, citing one European Commission study in which uncollected consumption taxes were estimated at 10 billion euros a year. Another study, by two American academics, estimated that self-employed workers failed to report about 28 billion euros in taxable income in 2009.

Well, of course there was and is tax evasion in Greece but why single out a study that claimed “self-employed workers” failed to report about 28 billion euros? Who are these waiters and waitresses that are largely responsible for the nation’s plight? When you read the relevant passage in Evangelos’s book, you can spot his bias immediately: “People in Germany, the Netherlands, Finland—eurozone countries that had, with great reservation, participated in Greece’s bailouts—read the stories about the swimming pools, or others about an apparently high per capita number of Porsche Cayennes in Greece…were perturbed.”

Evangelos did not really clarify what kind of  “self-employed workers” he was talking about and Hammer was all to happy to take him at his word that “workers” were bleeding the country dry. However, I invite you to read an article about the study that appeared on the website Keep Talking Greece that will put things into perspective. It states:

The chief offenders are professionals in medicine, engineering, education, accounting, financial services and law. Among the self-employed documented in the report are accountants, dentists, lawyers, doctors, personal tutors and independent financial advisers.

Odd that the professional classes can be described as “workers” unless you want to prejudice WSJ or NY Times readers against them. In fact, it is completely understandable why lawyers, doctors and accountants would want to avoid paying taxes. They are not part of the labor force but small proprietors who have the same class outlook as the rulers of society.

In terms of the authors of the paper, who clearly were anxious to represent all Greeks as tax cheats even if their words don’t exactly support Hammer’s description of them as “self-employed workers”, it is worth mentioning their affiliation. Adair Morse and Margarita Tsoutsoura are from the University of Chicago. The minute I saw U. of Chicago, alarm bells went off. It seems that Morse is a fellow at the Friedman-Becker Institute. I am sure you know that Friedman is none other than Milton Friedman, while Becker is Gary Becker, an economist who once described Friedman as “the greatest living teacher I have ever had”. Right. There’s not much information on Margarita Tsoutsoura that would shed light on her ideological leanings but I suspect that she found Morse’s views congenial.

The third author is Nikolaos Artavanis from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. a contributor to http://greekeconomistsforreform.com/, a group blog that urged a “yes” vote on today’s referendum. Enough said?

Now I am sure that the numbers the authors dredged up were fairly accurate but we can be sure that they would understand the political impact. The report was used mainly as a cudgel against the Greek nation to make the poor pay for the thievery of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie. Here is just another example of how it served a political agenda:


How Greek tax evasion helped sink the global economy
By Brad Plumer July 9, 2012

The euro crisis first started roaring in late 2009, when auditors inside the newly elected Greek government discovered that the country had a much—much—bigger deficit than anyone realized. That, in turn, inflamed fears that Greece couldn’t wiggle its way out of its debt trap so long as it was tethered to the euro. It also exposed structural problems within Europe’s currency union. Worries soon spread to Ireland, Portugal, and eventually Italy and Spain. Now the entire global economy is on edge.

Nice place. Wonder what sort of property taxes they pay? (Petros Giannakouris / AP)

But why did Greece have such a massive budget deficit in the first place? One factor (among many) was rampant tax evasion, which had starved the Greek government of funds. As it turns out, this was a very big deal indeed. The Wall Street Journal’s Justin Lahart points to a new paper (pdf) by three economists who estimate that the size of Greek tax evasion accounted for roughly half the country’s budget shortfall in 2008 and one-third in 2009.

How is it even possible to estimate taxes that aren’t ever paid? The economists, Nikolaos Artavanis, Adair Morse and Margarita Tsoutsoura, cleverly exploit a discrepancy. Few people in Greece want to report their real income to the government, since that would mean paying more taxes. But Greek banks have very solid estimates for how much income people are actually raking in — the banks need this info to make loans or to issue mortgages.

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The phrase “”Lies, damned lies, and statistics” was first used by Mark Twain who attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli even though it is likely he never said it. Probably history will record that if Twain had lived as our contemporary thanks to some youth elixir, he would have used it as an epithet for mainstream reporting on the Greek economy.

July 3, 2015

Axis of Resistance or Axis of Compliance?

Filed under: Greece,mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

“Moscow’s long-standing policy of trying to be friends with everyone.”

Back in 2011, just around the time that the Arab Spring began, a section of the left became convinced that the revolts in Libya and Syria were not genuine. Instead they were attempts by the West and its allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, to topple legitimate nationalist and even radical governments as part of a strategy to isolate and then destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran, which despite its flaws, was a key member of the “Axis of Resistance” (AOR). Of course, once Iran fell into the hands of the brie-eating and white wine-sipping Green Movement, that would increase the pressure on Russia that was in the final analysis the major obstacle to American imperialist designs.

Somewhere along the line reality got in the way even though the AOR left has not allowed that to get in its way. To some extent it is impossible to ignore evidence that this schema did not and could not match up to the byzantine geopolitics of the region. For example, in today’s CounterPunch, there’s an article by Jason Hirthler titled “Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg” that reprises AOR talking points such as a reference to Putin being pressured to abandon Assad to step down, something that reflects “the chief imperial aim of the West” even though there are copious reports on America demanding that the rebels they train take no action against the Baathists.

The article tries to square the circle. Even though its intention is to portray Putin as the number one enemy of imperialism, it has to acknowledge the purpose of the meeting in St. Petersburg—to bring together the American corporate elite with the Russian government officials in order to discuss business deals, even if WSWS.org warns about nuclear Armageddon in the next few months. Hirthler writes:

Filled with thousands of businessmen cutting deals with the Russian state, it provided a platform for Russia to reshape the dominant western narrative that Russia is an international pariah.

For those of us still old-fashioned enough to take Marx’s writings seriously, it is a mystery why Hirthler can’t make the connection between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the state that acts in its interests. As Marx put it in “The Communist Manifesto”: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” So as long as people such as this get the red carpet treatment in St. Petersburg, I doubt that there will be much need to find a nearby air raid shelter. The NY Times reported on June 19th that 12 CEOs were in St. Petersburg to discuss deals, including Jim Rogers, chairman of the Miami financial company Beeland Interests; John Wories, president of Amsted Rail; and Jacob Frenkel, chairman of J. P. Morgan Chase International.

The European corporate executives were even more anxious to do business.The heads of BP the French bank Société Générale showed up. Meanwhile, nothing would appear to stand in the way of Royal Dutch Shell Gazprom’s plans to  build a third liquefied natural gas plant on Sakhalin Island in Siberia. Someone remind me. Is this the sort of irreconcilable conflicts Lenin described in “Imperialism: the latest stage of capitalism”? I must have missed something.

Even Saudi Arabia is getting into the act as Hirthler refers to it signing a raft of agreements with Russia during the powwow. For a more detailed account of the growing affinity between the Kremlin and the Mideast’s most reactionary power, you can read Fred Weir in the latest issue of the Christian Monitor. For those of you unfamiliar with Weir, I can assure you that he is a long-time Marxist even though his first-rate journalism avoids any kind of editorializing. He writes:

Mr. Putin and Prince Salman sat down for a friendly meeting on the sidelines of a St. Peterburg economic forum last month, where they reportedly signed six deals, including a nuclear cooperation agreement that could see Russia helping to build up to 16 atomic power stations in the desert kingdom. They also are reported to have inked contracts on  space cooperation, infrastructure development, and a deal on high-end Russian weaponry.

For the Kremlin, the effort to establish good relations with a major Mideast player that has long shunned Russia comports well with what Ms. Zvyagelskaya calls “Moscow’s long-standing policy of trying to be friends with everyone.”

Does this business about trying to be friends with everyone ring a bell. It should because it is essentially another way of expressing what Kissinger said: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

Meanwhile for all the talk of “sticking it to the man”, one has to wonder why Russia does not come to the aid of Greece that is locked in a battle with the European bankers, the IMF and the EU, which supposedly are part of the economic and geopolitical forces that want to turn Russia into a Yeltsinite colony. One would think that helping Greece to withstand these vultures would be in Russia’s interests.

Ertugrul Kurkcu, a parliamentary representative of the HDP, a leftist party that emerged out of the Kurdish struggle that has been called the Syriza or Podemos of Turkey, has shown the kind of solidarity that is absent from the Kremlin. The Washington Post reported on June 30:

On Tuesday, support for Greece and its leftist government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras came from a rather unlikely place. Across the Aegean Sea in Turkey, one member of parliament urged his government to help bailout their neighbors.

“It is the biggest help that Turkey can do for its neighbor when times are tough,” said Ertugrul Kurkcu, of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, known by its Turkish abbreviation HDP.

Kurkcu, who hails from the western Turkish port city of Izmir, urged Ankara to extend a 1.6 billion-euro “zero interest loan” to Greece to help repay its debts to international creditors, according to the Daily Sabah.

“Turkey’s humanitarian help in 2013 was $1.9 billion. Turkey’s resources are sufficient enough to make this aid to Greece,” Kurkcu said.

Russia’s GDP was equivalent to 2.097 Trillion dollars in 2013, which is about a thousand times the amount that Greece is being forced to deliver to the IMF. If Putin really was the leader of the “Axis of Resistance”, you’d think he’d pony up with the dough. What explains this reluctance? Are we dealing with the “Axis of Resistance” or maybe the “Axis of Compliance”? Maybe Putin was not cut from the same cloth as the Turkish HDP leader who understands what it means to struggle against oppression and exploitation. Maybe Putin has more in common with the businessmen he has put down the red carpet for rather than the pensioners and workers of Greece, at least that’s the conclusion one would draw from forexlive.com, a news aggregator geared to investors:

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 4.02.28 PM

June 29, 2015

Greeks rally for “no” vote

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 9:55 pm

From the NY Times:
Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 5.52.56 PM

 

Greeks on Monday gathered in Syntagma Square outside the Parliament to support the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his call for a July 5 referendum on whether to accept proposals by European creditors that his government rejected.

An estimated 20,000 people, many waving flags and some beating drums and chanting slogans against austerity measures, rallied for a “no” vote that risks Greece’s exit from the eurozone.

The protest was peaceful, and had been encouraged by Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party.

May 18, 2015

Socialist revolution in Greece–easier said than done

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 8:20 pm

As bad as Alex Callinicos’s analysis of Greece has been, at least you can give him credit for not issuing the kind of calls for socialist revolution that landed in my inbox last Wednesday, courtesy of Alan Woods’s “In Defense of Marxism” (IDOM) website. Woods and company are “old school” Trotskyists who have perfected the art of outflanking “fakers” like Syriza from the left even though—to their credit—they have had remarkable patience with the Chavistas in Venezuela. In an article titled “Greece: Neither ‘honourable compromise’ nor ‘accidental rupture’ – the only way forward is a Socialist policy – part one”, Stamatis Karagiannopoulos, a member of the “Communist Tendency” in Syriza, makes the case for socialist revolution:

Comrades of the SYRIZA leadership are accustomed to deriding the Communist Tendency’s patient defence of an anticapitalist-socialist programme with their metaphysical aphorism that: “this isn’t the time for socialism”. We – the communists – respond in this way: “life itself indicates exactly the opposite to what you claim! Never has capitalism been so incapable of satisfying even the most basic of human needs, and never has socialism been so necessary to satisfy those needs”! The fact that the voice of SYRIZA’s communists is incomparably weaker than those of the leadership’s ‘celebrity’ ministers does not mean that our positions, perspectives, and warnings are incorrect. On the contrary, these are the only positions that are based on a realistic evaluation of reality and of the prospects of a system doomed to go from crisis to crisis.

Well, who can argue against positions that are based on a “realistic evaluation of reality”?

At the risk of defying reality, I think it would be worthwhile to think about what it would mean to “build socialism” in Greece. In fact, there’s very little engagement with that question in the IDOM website. Mostly there are calls for radical action such as the following: “Rather than requesting a European debt conference with bourgeois governments we should hold directly in Greece an international conference of the mass organisations of the working class and of the youth against capitalism!” (The comrades are fond of the exclamation point.)

There’s a bit of a disconnect here. If you wash your hands of the “bourgeois governments”, how exactly are “the mass organisations of the working class and of the youth against capitalism” supposed to come up with the dough to keep Greece functioning? In 1960 it was one thing for Cuba to kick out the Western corporations when the USSR existed. It is another thing, however, when the USSR no longer exists and Putin—despite his anti-imperialist bluster—is in no position to support Greece.

Maybe I am a bit more hesitant to take calls for socialist revolution in Greece seriously since I saw what happened in Nicaragua in the late 80s when the USSR still existed but was getting ready to close shop. Forced to rely on its own devices, the FSLN could not survive. Years later, there would be a new upswing of radicalism in Latin America but the left would be careful not to break with capitalism after the fashion of the Cuban model. Leaving aside Venezuela’s future prospects, I have never heard it described as socialist.

It would be useful to review what classical Marxism had to say about socialist revolution especially in light of the problems encountered in peripheral societies like Vietnam, Cuba, and China et al.

Karl Marx’s emphasis was on advanced capitalist countries like Britain, Germany and France. So was Engels. In an 1847 article, he answered the rhetorical question “Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?” His answer:

No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others.

Further, it has co-ordinated the social development of the civilized countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them the great struggle of the day. It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.

But towards the end of his life Karl Marx seemed to reverse himself when he began looking closely at Russia since it was home to rural communes that could have served as the foundations for a communist society—at least based on the letters to Zasulich. However, it should never be forgotten that he saw Russia in terms of a peasant revolution that could only succeed in partnership with the West as this preface to the Second Russian Edition of the Communist Manifesto should make clear: “If the Russian revolution becomes the signal for proletarian revolution in the West, then Russia’s peasant communal land-ownership may serve as the point of departure for a communist development.”

You’ll notice the if-then formulation. This was pretty much the outlook of Russian Marxists as well, including Lenin. Many people on the left believe that Lenin was for a socialist revolution from the get-go and not just a bourgeois revolution that aimed for radical land reform and democratic rights—the sort of thing we associate with France in 1789. I was never convinced of this. There were just too many formulations such as this that was contained in the March-April 1905 article “A Revolution of the 1789 or the 1848 Type?” (emphases in the original):

Only history, of course, can weigh these pros and cons in the balances. Our task as Social-Democrats is to drive the bourgeois revolution onward as far as it will go, without ever losing sight of our main task—the independent organisation of the proletariat.

Or “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution“:

Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. What does this mean? It means that the democratic reforms in the political system and the social and economic reforms, which have become a necessity for Russia, do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism; they will, for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.

Leaving aside the question of whether Lenin abandoned this outlook in 1917, there is little doubt that following Marx’s if-then, Lenin saw the USSR’s survival as utterly dependent on the success of Communist Parties in Western Europe.  In a “Speech on the International Situation” delivered to the 1918 Congress of Soviets, Lenin said, “The complete victory of the socialist revolution in one country alone is inconceivable and demands the most active cooperation of at least several advanced countries, which do not include Russia.”

Despite the differences he had with Lenin on the character of the approaching revolution in Russia, Trotsky was in accord with the reliance on more developed nations. In “Results and Prospects”, written in 1906, he stated: “But how far can the socialist policy of the working class be applied in the economic conditions of Russia? We can say one thing with certainty–that it will come up against obstacles much sooner than it will stumble over the technical backwardness of the country. Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialistic dictatorship.”

Keeping in mind that Russia was richly endowed with oil, timber, coal, iron ore, fertile soil, and a powerful army that had defeated the imperialist invaders, Lenin continued to worry about the USSR’s future without that help. In “Better Fewer, But Better”, written in 1923 a year before his death, he wrote that “It is not easy for us, however, to keep going until the socialist revolution is victorious in more developed countries…”

Stalin of course decided that it was possible to build socialism in the USSR even if it took subordinating the CP’s to the foreign policy exigencies of the Kremlin. History teaches us that the results were inimical to socialism in the long run. Despite the lessons of failure in the USSR and repeated retreats in the Third World, the comrades in Alan Woods’s Fourth International invite the Greeks to go full steam ahead.

Before Alexis Tsipras took office, I wrote the following:

Of course the real question is whether Syriza can deliver such reforms given the relationship of forces that exist. Germany, its main adversary, has a population of 80 million and a GDP of nearly 4 trillion dollars. Greece, by comparison, has a population of 11 million and a GDP of 242 billion dollars, just a bit more than Volkswagen’s revenues. Given this relationship of forces, it will be a struggle to achieve the aforementioned reforms. To make them possible, it will be necessary for the workers and poor of Greece to demonstrate to Europe that they will go all the way to win them. It will also be necessary for people across Europe to demonstrate their solidarity with Greece so as to put maximum pressure on Germany and its shitty confederates like François Hollande to back off. But if your main goal in politics is to lecture the Greeks about the need for workers councils, armed struggle and all the rest, you obviously have no need to waste your time on such measly reforms.

In my view, the best thing the left can do is to organize demonstrations of solidarity with Syriza—not write the sort of junk that appears in the British SWP and IDOM press. Yes, we know that they are weak-tea social democrats and that the Greeks deserve fearless leaders like Alex Callinicos and Alan Woods who will never retreat an inch. But for those on the left still moored to the “realistic evaluation of reality” alluded to above, my strongest recommendation is to hound the filthy bankers who are trying to make the Greeks cry uncle just as Reagan did to the Nicaraguans. There were those on the left who were all to anxious to point out the FSLN’s shortcomings in 1989 but I was content to do what I had been doing for three years—raising money and volunteers to keep a revolutionary experiment alive. With all proportions guarded, this is the way we should look at Greece in 2015.

May 6, 2015

Alex Callinicos: propagandist

Filed under: British SWP,Greece,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

One of the bad habits of the “Leninist” press is its tendency to adopt the journalistic standards of the bourgeois press but putting it at the service of a tacitly leftist agenda. Ultimately it rests on a cherry-picking technique that both Time Magazine and Pravda were famous for. In Time Magazine, you would gather that the USSR was a misery-laden concentration camp and from Pravda you would think that the masses of America were groaning under the weight of capitalist oppression in the 1950s when the economy was rising to new heights and American society was basking in relative contentment. The word for this, of course, is propaganda.

To some extent, the left assumes that cherry-picking is not such a problem because the information it is providing is supposed to balance what you read in the bourgeois press. However, it does become a problem when it serves an ideological agenda that undermines our credibility. For example, there is little doubt that the USSR was making great strides in the 1930s but if you ignored Stakhanovitism, for example, you were functioning as a propagandist rather than a Marxist analyst.

Needless to say, the propagandist impulse is strongest when you belong to a “Leninist” party. When I was a member of the SWP, I would not dare admit in a public gathering that Cuba ever did anything wrong. Now that I am no longer a propagandist, I have no problem calling attention to the fact that Cuba has often compromised its socialist principles when confronted by the need to adapt to foreign policy exigencies that might determine the country’s economic survival. For example, because of the PRI’s nationalist origins that had not been completely extinguished, Mexico stood up for Cuban sovereignty at OAS gatherings. This certainly must have persuaded the Cuban leadership not to attack the Mexican government in 1968 when it was gunning down students in Mexico City.

In a classic example of propaganda, Alex Callinicos has been cherry-picking news reports on SYRIZA to make it look as much as possible like PASOK, the social democratic party that ruled Greece along neoliberal lines after the fashion of British Labour or the French SP. This means that anything that cuts across this ideological agenda has to be either minimized or completely sidestepped.

The most recent example of this is an article titled “Has Syriza reached its moment of truth?” When I read such articles, I wonder whether Callinicos is plagiarizing WSWS.org or the other way around.

The brunt of Callinicos’s attack on SYRIZA is directed at a meeting that Alexis Tsipras had in Cyprus with Egypt’s General al-Sisi, a sign apparently of Tsipra’s going over to the dark side. I would be loath to turn al-Sisi into some kind of litmus test for the left in light of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist’s role in the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013.

On July 5, 2013 the Revolutionary Socialists issued a statement hailing the overthrow of Morsi, describing it as having a significance that “surpasses any participation by old regime remnants, or the apparent support of the army and police.” Really?

A month later, the comrades woke up to reality: “But we have to put the events of today in their context, which is the use of the military to smash up workers’ strikes. We also see the appointment of new provincial governors, largely drawn from the ranks of the remnants of the old regime, the police and generals.”

I should add that some on the left were all too anxious to read the RS out of the movement because they made a mistake in July 2013. “At every stage, the RS sought to subordinate the working class to one or another section of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, in order to block it from developing its own political leadership and organising a conscious political struggle against capitalism and imperialism.”

You can probably figure out who wrote these words, right? It was WSWS.org, the same outfit whose attacks on SYRIZA today are virtually indistinguishable from Callinicos’s.

Once you get past the hysteria over Tsipras meeting with al-Sisi, you discover that it was Cyprus that was the main beneficiary of an economic deal with Egypt, not Greece, as the article cited by Callinicos indicates:

For Nicosia [the capital of Cyprus], energy cooperation with Cairo is a major component of the talks. Egypt has expressed interest in securing natural gas from Cyprus’ Aphrodite offshore field.

Cyprus and Egypt have already signed an EEZ delineation agreement in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern Mediterranean.

In December 2013 the two countries also concluded a treaty on the joint exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves on the median line between the two countries’ respective EEZs.

What is expected from Greece? To avoid joint economic ventures with Egypt because al-Sisis murdered Muslim Brotherhood members? What kind of litmus test is this for countries trying to survive in a capitalist world? Does Callinicos have any idea of how the USSR, even before it became “state capitalist”, reacted to the death of CP leaders in Turkey?

E.H. Carr’s description of these events is essential. He states that Mustafa Kemal decided to eliminate the Communist Party in Turkey that had been constituted as the Green Apple for its ties to a militia called the Green Army primarily made up of peasants that was a contingent of the Kemalist armed forces. On January 6, 1921, the Green Army was brought to heel and its leaders fled to Greece. Kemal next turned his attention to the Green Apple. Carr writes:

Suphi [the CP leader] was seized by unknown agents at Erzerum, and on January 28, 1921, together with sixteen other leading Turkish communists, thrown into the sea off Trebizond — the traditional Turkish method of discreet execution. It was some time before their fate was discovered. [Soviet leader] Chicherin is said to have addressed enquiries about them to the Kemalist government and to have received the reply that they might have succumbed to an accident at sea. But this unfortunate affair was not allowed to affect the broader considerations on which the growing amity between Kemal and Moscow was founded. For the first, though not for the last, time it was demonstrated that governments could deal drastically with their national communist parties without forfeiting the goodwill of the Soviet Government, if that were earned on other grounds.

Now I am not one to advocate this kind of realpolitik but would only say that based on a universal code of conduct, SYRIZA is far less guilty than the Bolshevik leaders Callinicos is so anxious to apotheosize.

Finally we are led to believe that SYRIZA has become part of the “war on terror” because the Cyprus meeting came out with a statement “to jointly combat terrorism and violent extremism for the sake of security in the eastern Mediterranean.” In doing so, it has simply joined the amen chorus at a thousand other leftist websites, including the one I write for. But given all of the difficulties facing Greece, the last thing I expect to see is the Greek military intervening in Iraq or Syria. The only reason this red herring appeared in Callinicos’s article was to tarnish SYRIZA’s reputation, which after all is based on resistance to austerity and not joint exploration of oil fields in the Mediterranean with Egypt. In fact, this article that appears in today’s Financial Times is a much better indicator of SYRIZA’s mettle than all the crap that Callinicos has written:

Financial Times, 5/6/2015
Greece overturns civil service reforms
by Kerin Hope in Athens

The Greek parliament has approved a law proposed by the leftwing Syriza­led government overturning civil service reforms by the previous government aimed at streamlining the country’s inefficient public sector.

The legislation, which was passed on Tuesday night, called for the rehiring of about 13,000 civil servants whose jobs were cut in an overhaul of the public administration agreed with bailout lenders. It also eliminated annual evaluations for civil servants and promotions based on merit.

Giorgos Katrougalos, the leftwing Syriza­led government’s deputy minister for administrative reform, called the measures “a Band­Aid to repair the most extreme injustices and restore legality to the system”.

“This is not our last word, it’s the first step of [administrative] reforms we’re going to make that won’t be neoliberal but will have a social aspect,” he said, without giving details of how his plans to increase the public sector payroll would be financed.

The government rejected claims by opposition lawmakers that the legislation violated the terms of Greece’s current €172bn bailout which requires the country’s government to agree economic measures with creditors before presenting them to parliament. “We aren’t going to consult the institutions [the EU, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund], we don’t have to, we’re a sovereign state,” Nikos Voutsis, the powerful interior minister, told parliament.

The municipal police force, which was disbanded 18 months ago, will be revived and several thousand caretakers at state schools, known as “guards”, are to be rehired.

Almost 600 women cleaners sacked by the finance ministry as a cost­cutting measure are expected to get their jobs back next month. The cleaners, who worked at tax offices around the country, have staged a round­the­clock sit­in for the past 12 months, occupying a stretch of pavement close to the finance ministry building in central Athens after they filed a collective lawsuit claiming unfair dismissal.

“I have a great feeling of satisfaction now that our campaign has succeeded,” said Anna Chrysikopoulou, a tax office cleaner who said she spent several nights a week at the sit­in sleeping in a tent. Mr Katrougalos, a lawyer who specialises in labour disputes, has become a controversial figure in the government.

He was accused soon after his appointment to the cabinet in January of conflict of interest over his involvement in cases of unfair dismissal brought by school guards. Mr Katrougalos denied the allegation, saying other partners in his law firm were representing the school guards. Government officials at the time defended Mr Katrougalos’s appointment on the grounds that his legal specialisation qualified him for the position.

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