Greek austerity plans "threaten growth"
, they say. They go on to add that "The economy is forecast to shrink by 5.5 per cent this year, and a further 2.5 per cent in 2012, bringing the total contraction since 2008 to 14 per cent." There is no growth to threaten. That is why Greece is on the brink
. That is why the state is dysfunctional, with ministers and international financial inspectors locked out
of government offices by striking civil servants. That is why the government fears "complete lawlessness" as the state's capacities disintegrate in several ways. That is why new forms of militancy have emerged, with struggle committees arising to express the popular goals. That is why the whole infrastructure is shut down in major and small ways every day by strikes and protests. That is why the "mother of all strikes"
is shutting Athens
Of course, the resistance is very exciting, but the level of resistance and upheaval is proportionate to the level of social distress. A constellation of capitalist powers, from the banks to the IMF, EU, European Central Bank, and the government itself, are putting the Greek working class through an incredible trauma. On every possible index, from wages to poverty, unemployment, working conditions and health, they are being put through the grinder. Living standards have taken an unprecedented plunge
. And every time the austerity measures produce a renewed contraction, and make it impossible for the debts to be repaid, the banks come back for more, demanding further austerity
and more bailouts for financial corporations. They don't care how much suffering it causes. This is mainly because it is an imperative for the major European banks to retain solvency and keep the Euro afloat as a global currency. This is also an imperative for large sectors of European capital, in whose interests the EU has been constructed. If the problem is insoluble on capitalist terms, and if there isn't going to be a renewed wave of capitalist growth, then I think the 1% would sooner take as much as possible and wait in their fortressed enclaves for the deluge to hit the 99%.
It's not just Greece. The reason we have seen a global movement erupt is because capitalism is an international system, and it's doing the same thing to all of us, everywhere. What was done to the Third World in terms of structural adjustment is now being done to the working classes in advanced capitalist societies. What is being done to Greece is being rolled out across Europe. This means that what happens in Greece, as a weak link in the capitalist chain, is of incredible importance to what happens to us. There is no immediate happy ending in sight. Whether the Greek government forces through austerity, or is compelled to withdraw from the Eurozone and default on its debts, things are going to be very difficult. As long as Greece is subordinated to the logic of capitalism, it is faced with a choice of evils.
This is one of the reasons that, while there is a very powerful mass movement, it is not yet united around a clear alternative. The idea of default and withdrawal from the Euro is advanced by many on the Left, who point out that the EU system is exploitative of peripheral countries, and that the most predatory lending and austerity measures are being forced on Greece by European institutions far more than by the IMF. Germany in particular hopes to become, as Costas Lapavitsas puts it in his recent Socialist Register
article, "undisputed master of European capitalism" as a result of the crisis. But social democracy across the continent is placing its hopes in a 'good euro'. These formations exert a gravitational pull on other left parties as well as the union bureaucracy. Radicals to the left of social democracy, such as French economist Michael Husson (quoted here
), argue that default and withdrawal by itself would not shift the balance of forces in favour of workers, pointing to the example of British capitalism which is outside the Eurozone. While there's an element of truth in this, it ignores the core/periphery relationship, wherein Greek subordination within the EU is a major factor in its austerity drive and in intensifying the exploitation of Greek workers in general. And since it is increasingly unlikely that default will be avoided, it is crucial that there is a leftist pressure to ensure it happens on terms that are relatively beneficial to the working class. Above all, though, there needs to be a response to austerity at the continental level. Lapavitsas argues that "working people in both core and periphery have no stake in the success of the EMU", and that radical left strategy across Europe should be based on this understanding. This would involve different concrete proposals in each country, as the precise forms of exploitation differ in each case. In Germany, the focus should be on raising domestic demand, breaking wage restraint and moving away from an export-led economy. In the peripheral countries, it should be on finding radical ways of dealing with the debt/deficit burden. But the social forces assembled behind this should also operate at a pan-European level: a Europe-wide general strike, coupled with a political campaign for a social Europe involving the left parties - the Portguese Left Bloc, Die Linke, NPA, etc. - is surely the minimum plausible response.
moving very fast, and in such circumstances of organic crisis, as Gramsci reminds us, the troops of many different parties can suddenly pass under the banner of one party that better represents their interests. The left parties have been gaining spectacularly, even if they remain divided, and even if the bureaucratic, parliamentarist and Stalinist elements have arguably held the struggle back in various ways. Yes, the ruling class has its trained cadres, and changes its personnel and programmes much faster than opponents. It is highly adaptible. Just look at the way "corporate leaders say they understand protests"
. Look at the way New Democracy are trying to capitalise on the government's woes; if social democracy has lost its ability to achieve austerity through bargaining, the ruling class will just turn to the Tories to use the whip instead. But in such times, the ruling class can also lose the capacity for initiative. It can make catastrophic mis-calculations, attack at the wrong moment, lose the loyalty of sections of its repressive apparatus.
The situation is extraordinarily precarious. It's important to remember that even amid the confidence and optimism of militant struggle, social misery of the kind Greece is going through also produces enormous despair. And ruling classes have always been able to benefit from the disruption caused by strikes. A serious setback for the struggle would be toxic, strengthening those who want to blame the strikes for the misery, and even worse those who want to scapegoat and terrorise immigrants, Muslims and the oppressed. At the moment, even the lower middle class are effectively on strike. Tax collectors aren't collecting taxes; and small businesses aren't paying VAT. If it isn't the 99%, it's at least the 80%. (Though, as is reported
today, 99% of Greek small businesses and shops are closed for the strike.) Their success now depends entirely on how those forces are placed, politically and strategically.
Labels: austerity, capitalism, class struggle, eu, europe, european left, eurozone, exploitation, greece, neoliberalism, working class