April 21 is a notorious day in Greek history. It was on this day in 1967 that a US-led authoritarian military coup overthrew socialist democracy in the country. It was US support for this authoritarianism, predicated on the illusion that socialism undermined democracy, that was said to be the cause of rising anti-American sentiment in Greece during and following the junta’s rule (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,903399,00.html).
April 21, 2010 is also a day now embedded in Greek history. It was on this day that a delegation from the IMF, European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB) arrived in Athens to implement what they term as planned economic ‘stabilization’ measures, characterized by cuts to public services and reductions in living standards. The Greeks hatred of this modern form of imperialism that stem from the events of April 21 1967, is manifested on the streets of Athens in the form of mass protests against the austerity measures imposed by the bankers. As one Greek activist contrasting the events of 1967 with the present put it: “We suffered from the military then. We suffer from the bankers now” (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11258).
As I illustrated in my last article, the debt crisis presently sweeping Greece and throughout the globe has its roots in the credit boom period in the US a decade ago, the ideological justifications of which have been legitimized as a result of the capitalist logic that underpins it. But one would be hard pressed to arrive at this conclusion by reading the mainstream media, the vast majority of whom have characterized the crisis essentially as a trajedy that is specific to Greece and where the public response to the crisis is unjustifiably deemed to be negative rather than positive. It is hardly surprising then, that Greece is presented not as a beacon for democracy, but as a “junk country” getting its comeuppance for its alleged “bloated public sector” and “culture of cutting corners” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/09/greece-debt-crisis-euro-imf).
The reason why the media are attempting to tarnish Greece in this way is because the Greek people have mobilized on mass against the bankers’ attempts to insist the people pay for the so-called “rescue” of their country by way of massive austerity programmes, without a fight. The memories of 1967 allied to the accompanying acts of popular resistance, remain a feature of the collective Greek consciousness in a way that is for example, absent in a country like Britain. Such resistance is anathema to Europe’s central bankers and regarded as an obstruction to German capital’s need to capture markets in the aftermath of Germany’s troubled reunification. In this sense, the Greece of today is a microcosm of a modern class war that is rarely reported as such and is waged with all the urgency of panic among the imperial rich. Ordinary people are not cowed by the corrupt corporatism that dominates the European Union (http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=576).
The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the present Pasok (Labour) government of George Papandreou, was described by sociologist Jean Ziegler as “a machine for systematic pillaging the country’s resources” (http://socialistworker.org/2010/05/24/the-modern-class-war).
This “machine” whose functionaries included Goldman Sachs and other US hedge fund operators, are currently being investigated by the US Federal reserve Board for their alleged speculating of public asset stripping by the Greek government and the resulting haemorrhaging of capital by way of capital flight which the ECB facilitates. This has prompted some mainstream commentators to question the apparent hitherto God-given logic which insists upon cuts as a means to appease financial markets as an unaviodable feature of system where such markets, instead of being our servants, are our masters (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/02/greece-default-debt-choice).
The reason why financial markets are perceived as masters in this way is due to the structural weaknesses of monetary union. All countries have the same access to the money markets, but they do not have the same access to credit, which is obtained at a different price by each country (http://researchonmoneyandfinance.org/media/reports/eurocrisis/fullreport.pdf).
The main problem highlighted by the Greek crisis is that the EU is at most a monetary union not a fiscal union. Fiscal policy—dependent on the power to tax and spend—remains, for reasons of self-interest, firmly in the hands of the nation-states. Governments’ only means of saving the capitalist system from itself was to bail out the financial institutions from which they could then borrow as a means to enact the fiscal measures necessary to rescue the market (Callinicos, Alex, 2010, Bonfire of Illusions, Polity).
Governments’ obsession with appeasing the market means that weaker capitalist states like Greece are not given the luxury of being able to choose the timing of their austerity programmes. Greece has been targeted by the financial markets and their facilitators – the unelected and unaccountable ECB – for reasons of speculative profilagcy to the extent that the country has become threatened with bankruptcy. As a response, the financial markets didn’t just force up the interest rates on the bonds of the weaker eurozone economies, they also pushed down the euro. This made the Greek crisis a problem for the entire eurozone (http://www.allbusiness.com/economy-economic-indicators/economic-conditions-deflation/14489907-1.html).
The dominant continental states, France and Germany, were divided over how to respond: France supporting a coordinated loan to keep Greece afloat, Germany resisting. Greece threatened to humiliate the EU by going to the International Monetary Fund for help, a bluff that was called by Germany. A few weeks ago, European leaders signed up to an unprecedented 750 billion euro ($920 billion) joint rescue package for the euro which has been proven to be inadequate to stabilize it. Instead, the European single currency has continued its dramatic fall, recently hitting a four-year low against the dollar (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,697098,00.html).
The eventual agreement on the joint IMF-eurozone rescue reflected the fact that a Greek default would not be in the interest of the German banks, which have lent heavily to Greece and the other weaker eurozone economies. But the debate within Angela Merkel’s chronically weak conservative-liberal coalition in Berlin (which was accompanied by ferocious nationalist exchanges between the German and Greek media) tilted towards the hard line taken by Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36981501/ns/business/).
He proposed setting up a European Monetary Fund that could come to the rescue of eurozone members in Greece’s plight, in exchange for a tightening up of the Growth and Stability Pact, under which EU states are not supposed to run budget deficits greater than 3 percent of national income. Greece’s budget deficit is currently running at 13 per cent which is close to that of the UK and the US. But ministers want to reduce Greece’s deficit to 3 per cent within the next three years. Moreover, penalty clauses are to be inserted allowing states that broke the rules to be deprived of access to EU cohesion funds or even to have their voting rights temporarily suspended (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c36bf126-2d41-11df-9c5b-00144feabdc0.html).
The message is clear. If Greece fails to implement the required austerity programmes, it will be ditched. The so-called rescue of the country is essentially an effort to rescue the French and German banks. If Greece defaults, it would deal a blow to the banks that are already weakened by the broader crisis (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21313).
This explains the nature of the anti-Greek propaganda that is pumped out by the media. This is the same media which claims that the Greek people have artificially high standards of living that must be brought down. But research by investigative journalists expose these lies and distortions. For example, figures show that the cost of living in Greece is one of the highest in Europe with the average shopping basket of food costing 66 per cent more than in Germany. Around 1 in 5 Greeks live on or below the poverty line of 6,648 euros per year. Unemployment stands at around 11 per cent. Public expenditure is equal to 40 per cent of gross domestic product. In Britain it accounts for 45 per cent. There is no “bloated public sector” (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21241).
Despite what the media portray, the crisis in Greece is connected to the broader crisis which will lead to increasing pressures on the euro. This will worsen the problems in Portugal, Ireland and Spain – the countries that along with Greece make up the so-called PIGS. According to leading Greek activist Panos Garganos, the intervention of the IMF and EU will not calm this crisis – it will make it worse because the example of Greece shows they have failed there, so they will fail to save Ireland, Portugal and Spain. The markets know this and will move quickly (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11258).
What all this indicates is that the Greek people are clear that it is the system which is responsible for the crisis and are standing up to fight back against the bankers and politicians who insist that they, along with other ordinary folks in countries like the US and UK, repay the debts of the rich and powerful who incurred them. Jobs, pensions and public services are to be slashed and burned, with privateers in charge. For the European Union and the IMF, the opportunity presents to “change the culture” and dismantle the social welfare of Greece, just as the IMF and the World Bank have “structurally adjusted” (impoverished and controlled) countries across the developing world (http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=576).
As the illusionary Tweedledee and Tweedledum versions of parliamentary democracy throughout much of the world play to the fiscal tune of ruling class interests, the inspiration for the rest of us are the ordinary folk in Greece.
Copyright: Daniel Margrain