The public impoverishment and humiliation currently being inflicted upon the Greek nation may still be presented in the capitalist media as “the Greek crisis”, but it is becoming clearer by the day that Greece’s economic woes are merely the prelude to an economic catastrophe which looks set to overtake not only the whole of Europe (with Ireland, Spain and Portugal currently hot favourites in the race to default) but the whole of the capitalist world. Underlying the credit crunch, which has the entire Greek bourgeois political class down on its knees scrambling for loans, is the overproduction crisis which has ALL of monopoly capitalism by the throat. The so-called “Greek crisis” is in reality the crisis of world capitalism – as is well understood by the “troika” who are overseeing the dismantling of Greek society: the EU, the ECB and the IMF. By the ferocity of their assault upon Greece we may judge the depth of the panic now gripping these agencies of world imperialism as the ground opens beneath their feet.
Developments in Greece are an early taste of what is in store for the rest of the capitalist world. For five years now the Greek economy has been imploding, shrinking at a rate rising to 7% last year. Official jobless figures hit 21% in November, with youth unemployment rising to 48%. In the year ending December 2011 manufacturing output shrank by 15.5% and industrial output by 11.3%. The national debt stands at 142% of GDP, and even the ambition to bring this down to a “mere” 120% by 2020 is being taken with a pinch of salt.
This dramatic economic contraction has further eroded the government’s tax take and further depressed the spending power of the already cash-strapped working class, thereby further suppressing effective demand and exacerbating the underlying crisis of overproduction. The previous 110 billion Euro bail-out in May 2010 could not but fail to stop the economy shrinking, merely adding to the speculative feeding frenzy and the further extortion of interest payments by loan sharks whilst the social democratic PASOK government was turning the screw ever harder on the working class. The new “rescue” plan conceived last October, now brought to a forced delivery by the immediate need for Athens to find a way to repay 14.5 billion Euros to bondholders by the due date of 20 March, will fare no better.
In the effort to avoid a full-blown and destabilising default, pressure has been put on creditors to accept a kind of camouflaged default, by the terms of which lenders “voluntarily” accept a “haircut” of as much as 70% of the bond value (the unspoken understanding being that, in the absence of such a “voluntary” arrangement, an “uncontrolled” default would furnish no guarantee of any return on investment whatever).
The new memorandum
Now, in exchange for a loan of 130 billion Euros, the coalition government headed by the “non-partisan” technocrat Papademos is required by its masters to deliver yet another raft of austerity measures against the working class, as detailed in the new memorandum. The following are but a sample of the capitalist attacks upon the working class:
3 billion Euros of spending cuts
Minimum wage cut by 20%
Pensions slashed by 300 million Euros annually
15,0000 jobs to be lost in the public sector over the next 3 years
Wages reduced in the private sector
Wages frozen till 2015
State assets privatised
Cuts in healthcare and drug provision by 1.1 billion Euros
Cuts in child benefit
Removal of tax breaks for workers
Bigger tax exemptions for big capital
Swingeing though these measures are, especially when added to the measures that have already been implemented, slashing the living standards of millions of Greek working class people, even bourgeois sources recognise they cannot cure the crisis and in fact may well make the situation in Greece even worse:
“A ´strictly confidential´ report on Greece’s debt projections prepared for eurozone finance ministers reveals Athens’ rescue programme is way off track and suggests the Greek government may need another bail-out once a second rescue – set to be agreed on Monday night – runs out.
“The 10-page debt sustainability analysis, distributed to eurozone officials last week … found that even under the most optimistic scenario, the austerity measures being imposed on Athens risk a recession so deep that Greece will not be able to climb out of the debt hole over the course of a new three-year, €170bn bail-out.
“It warned that two of the new bail-out’s main principles might be self-defeating. Forcing austerity on Greece could cause debt levels to rise by severely weakening the economy while its €200bn debt restructuring could prevent Greece from ever returning to the financial markets … (Peter Spiegel, ´Greek debt nightmare laid bare´, Financial Times, 21 February 2012).
Political bankruptcy of the Greek bourgeoisie
When the troika demanded that all the parties in the coalition should sign up to these and other crippling measures, giving them just six hours to digest the document which ran to fifty pages, there was much noisy indignation for domestic consumption, with an eye to elections looming in April. However when push came to shove both the social democratic PASOK and the right wing New Democracy (ND) dutifully kissed the rod, revealing themselves to be no more than tools of imperialism.
The fraudulent character of bourgeois democracy was on full display as 199 out of 278 MPs voted the package through in the early hours of 13 February, whilst over 100,000 workers protested outside the parliament building in Syntagma Square. Whilst the craven voting fodder inside the building were being bullied into compliance by their party leaders (with a few last-minute cardboard rebels expelled from their respective parties as an example of what others can expect if they dare to try to reflect the voice of their constituents), outside the working class was resisting on the street, acquitting themselves with courage and discipline against the teargas and batons of the riot police. For five hours straight, on Syntagma Square itself and throughout the centre, hundreds of thousands of Greeks endured without flinching repeated police attacks and the saturation of the area with toxic chemicals. In self-defence barricades were erected and Molotov cocktails thrown and many expressed their rage at being stripped of their livelihoods in ways most unwelcome to the bourgeoisie:
“[S]cores of violent protesters scuffled with police and hurled gasoline bombs into buildings. … [A] spokesman said that 104 police officers had been inured in the riots, but gave no injury figures for demonstrators, though the ambulance service said there had been dozens. As he stood in a smouldering shopping arcade, Dimitris Arvanitis … a doorman, described how rioters tore open the steeel shutters of shops and threw in a series of gasoline bombs. Ít felt like war´, he said” (Niki Kitsantonis and Rachel Donadio,´Athens shaken by riots after vote for austerity´, New York Times, 14 February 2012).
In fact, the same report cited by Peter Spiegel (see above) noted that such was the rage of the Greek people that the plans of the kings of finance to squeeze out of them the last drop of blood may well fail:
“‘The Greek authorities may not be able to deliver structural reforms and policy adjustments at the pace envisioned in the baseline,’the pessimistic scenario warned. ‘Greater wage flexibility may in practice be resisted by economic agents; product and service market liberalisation may continue to be plagued by strong opposition from vested interests; and business environment reforms may also remain bogged down in bureaucratic delays’.” (Financial Times, op.cit.).
Meanwhile the true role of social democracy in opening the door for fascism could be seen in the posturing of the small ultra rightwing LAOS party, hoping to swell its ranks by posing as the only party in the coalition prepared to stand against the austerity package. With PASOK’s popularity ratings in steep decline from 47% to 8% after years of selling out the working class, with its leader Papandreou reduced to mumbling that “We have to sacrifice a lot so as not to sacrifice everything” (echoes of Ed Miliband), the stage is set for the fascist charlatan that runs LAOS, George Karatzaferis, to strut on and declaim that he at least will not “contribute to the explosion of a revolution from destitution that will burn all of Europe”.
An opinion poll carried out by VPRC for Epikaira magazine put New Democracy on 27.5%, with Pasok (the social-democratic party of George Papandreou) on 11%. Those parties which are perceived as genuinely anti-austerity, namely, the KKE, the Syriza coalition and the Democratic Left (DIMAR) (which admittedly only stands for more humane and reasonable cuts) together are riding higher than the pro-cuts elements in the opinion polls. It is, however, expected that following the general election being held in Greece in April it will be the capitulatory elements who will form a coalition government as a result of inability of left-wing parties to work together.
Thieves fall out
Yet if the determination of the EU to make Greece take the blame for the imperialist crisis is cruelly exposing the impotence of her own politicians and making a joke out of her national sovereignty, what is also getting exposed are contradictions within the EU and within its leading players. Germany, Finland and the Netherlands are reported to favour further delaying implementation of the “rescue” package, putting the squeeze even harder on Greece; other players are more fearful of precipitating an uncontrolled default. That the “contagion effect” is political as well as economic is evidenced by the resignation of the German president, Christian Wulff, in the throes of a corruption scandal. Speculation is rife that this lucrative vacancy is now sought by the outspoken finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, currently exploiting German chauvinism to improve his chances. The German cabinet is reportedly split over how to skin the Greek cat, whether to keep the credit lines open in the hope of limiting the impact on the EU of Greece’s effective bankruptcy (Chancellor Merkel’s position) or (as Schäuble recommends) sever the credit lines now and risk precipitating an immediate default. On similar lines, Schäuble has even demanded the postponement of the elections scheduled for April and the imposition of a government composed entirely of technocrats, presumably tasked with overseeing the orderly demolition of the Greek economy and the suppression of domestic resistance.
The communist response
Either way, the only capitalist “solution” to the crisis is to wipe out surplus capacity and grind down the working class, and not in Greece alone. Talk of the EU trying to “save” Greece from default recalls the way military spokesmen used to justify US atrocities in Vietnam: we had to destroy the village to save the village. Whilst the capitalist thieves fall out over how best to effect this destruction, it is the task of the workers to resist being drawn behind one or other bourgeois “solution”, instead uniting to advance their own irreconcilable class interests over those who exploit their labour. As the KKE’s Aleka Papariga explained on 6 February, “The people must not be trapped in these rivalries, they must overcome them, promoting their own alternative solution concerning the question of power… Nothing could be worse than for the people to be afraid and to choose one of the two dilemmas which their exploiters place before them.”
In the days running up to the parliamentary rubber-stamping of the new memorandum, comrade Papariga made it clear that the immediate task was to do whatever could be done to stop the austerity package in its tracks, if possible “to overthrow the government through the will, the activity and the organized intervention of the people”. But even at this stage, before the outcome in parliament had been decided, she stressed that this mobilisation to overthrow the government was only “a first step”, explaining that “We do not restrict ourselves to this or subordinate everything to the ballot box. The important thing is for the people to realise through their struggle that the overthrow of a government is not sufficient… What is important is to overthrow the class which is in power… What is important is for the people to take into their hands the economy of the country namely the means of production, the monopolies, and the businesses. Any other solution would provide breathing space to the bourgeois political system… Starting from today, the alternative proposal against the current political line cannot be occasional and disjointed pro-people proposals but the worker’s and people’s power. Without the power of the people it is not possible to deal with the vicious circle of the crisis, of course together with the disengagement from the EU and the unilateral cancellation of the debt. No more bargaining. Even if they write off 100 % of the debt, this will be paid for out of the pockets of the people, the people will return it with their sweat and toil and problems. There is no other solution. We would very much like an intermediate solution to exist, but from the moment it does not exist the solution must be radical.”
This admonition over the question of non-existent “intermediate solutions” is timely and should be pondered by all those on the left in Britain who kid themselves that there is an “alternative” to the cuts other than the overthrow of the system whose overproduction crisis renders such cuts a necessity. A minority of PASOK MPs voted against the memorandum, looking to preserve a shade of credibility with their raging constituents come election time. No less than PASOK’s deputy minister of labour in the Papademos coalition, Yannis Koutsoukos, resigned, supposedly having suddenly discovered that further cuts will deepen the country’s recession. Comrade Papariga will not have been surprised by this development, having a week earlier already cautioned workers that “The bourgeois political system has reserves – the forces which appear today as anti-memorandum forces… All the proposals concerning heroic and militant negotiations, which are being put forward today, do not lead anywhere but to a vicious circle”. Yes, further cuts deepen the crisis. But yes too, further efforts to “grow the economy out of recession” through further borrowing will also fail, will intensify the crisis they seek to resolve and will be taken out of the hide of the exploited – until the exploited break their chains. This is more obvious in Greece than it is in Britain (so far), yet is the essential character of the crisis throughout imperialism. When the capitalists tell us there is no alternative to the cuts, they speak truer than they know – so long as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie endures and the means of production remain the private property of the exploiting class.
It is on this basis that workers in Britain need to stand shoulder to shoulder with their exploited brothers and sisters in Greece. On 20 February the KKE issued a call for solidarity from workers everywhere which made clear that solidarity is sought not on the basis of Greece as a special case – “It is not necessary for you to ‘become Greeks’ in order to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Greece”, they say – but on the basis of common class interests which unite all exploited workers: “We call on you to join us on the same road for the contemporary rights of the working class and the poor popular strata, in order to impede and overthrow our common enemy, the dictatorship of the monopolies, the EU, the parties which serve them. Their overthrow in every country or group of countries, the socialization of the monopolies, disengagement from the EU, NATO, with working class-people’s power will be the greatest contribution to the struggle of the peoples of Europe and the whole world.”
To remove any doubt about the kind of solidarity that is demanded, the KKE on 20 February issued a statement, “Regarding the Expressions of Solidarity with the Greek People”. Noting that “demonstrations have been held in many countries across the world under the ‘umbrella’ of slogans of ‘solidarity with Greece’ and ‘we are all Greeks,’ the KKE introduces a note of caution, pointing out that “the workers must deal with any attempt to mislead them” and warning that “there is an effort by certain forces (mainly of social-democracy, the opportunists of the Party of the European Left and the ‘Greens’) to use vaguely the ‘solidarity with the Greek people’ to whitewash their support which they had provided in the past to the Maastricht Treaty, and the other Euro-treaties, to the EU of capital itself, which is reactionary and in no way can be ‘democratised’, as they are even now claiming. In addition there is an attempt for the issue of Greece to be utilised in the inter-imperialist rivalries, inside and outside the EU. Yes, the workers in Greece want the solidarity of the workers in Europe and all over the world! But solidarity with their struggles, their strikes, their militant demands, the KKE, and the class-oriented trade union movement, PAME which is in the front line of the struggle and not the ‘solidarity’, which seeks the continuation of capitalist exploitation and the squeezing of the workers.”
Solidarity with the Greek working class!
Forward to the overthrow of capitalism!