A very capitalist coup
The political and economic humiliation heaped upon Greece by the major European capitalist states led by Germany has shocked people around the world. The hashtag #ThisIsACoup trended on Twitter as global cyber-anger reflected what in essence had taken place.
In military terms, the EU demanded and got unconditional surrender. Legislation that enforces the new “agreement” is actually to be approved by Brussels and passed by Wednesday. Athens has precious little political sovereignty left. This is regime change in all but name.
The recent referendum in which over 62% rejected harsh new bail-out conditions, was dismissed with contempt by the eurozone leaders, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. As punishment, the Greek voters were then told they would face even harsher terms and political control by Brussels
In economic terms, the coup takes the form of further harsh austerity measures and the privatisation of public assets, with half the proceeds handed over to the German banks. There is no debt “restructuring” in the so-called deal. Prime minister Alexis Tsipras returned from Brussels empty-handed, facing harsh accusations of betrayal from within and without his own party.
Tsipras now faces the enforced collapse of his Syriza government which swept to power in January promising to end austerity that has impoverished the Greek people to an extent unknown in Europe since 1945. It was a pledge that Syriza was unable to keep, but not for want of trying.
Syriza’s leaders derived their politics and economics from a period that has long disappeared. They thought they could negotiate a return to growth along Keynesian lines while pressurising the major European powers into refinancing their debt to keep the euro intact. Ultimately, it was a serious miscalculation about the nature of our times.
The eurozone, along with the rest of the capitalist world, is weighed down by debt and economic growth rates have failed to return to their pre-crash levels by some margin. Germany, France and the others are not interested in democracy and not open to pressure or protest, as Syriza have found out. Merkel and co are themselves locked into overriding economic and financial forces.
Appeals by Tsipras and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to European solidarity and democracy were therefore bound to fall on stony ground. Their failure to attack capitalism as a system was noticeable and was a weakness. Yet there can’t be a regulated, “softer” form of capitalism, where some countries do austerity and others don’t as a matter of choice, especially within the eurozone where the ECB controls every country’s banks.
Some say, what else could Syriza do? Indeed, within the parameters of global corporate capitalism, the choices were to capitulate under extreme duress or break with the system – i.e. take over the banks, encourage workers to occupy their workplaces, the ports, the media, seize the land from the big landowners, including the church and begin a democratic transformation of the corrupt and weak Greek state. An appeal to people around Europe and the rest of the world to support such actions would have surely won a warm response.
The Greek crisis is a crisis of democracy everywhere. Parliamentary-style politics is no match for rapacious financial markets and corporate raiders eager to seize public assets and run them for profit. In Brussels, the finance ministers and heads of state looked and acted like the executive management team of big business and finance, which they are.
What we are witnessing is the break-up of the post-World War II order and a European Union which expressed the hope for a capitalist Europe free from war. It’s the end of a dream that you could harmonise trade and exchange between unequal partners. In particular, Greece’s development was held back by the major powers who imposed their will on it again and again.
The imposition of bankers’ law on a small economically backward country is not an expression of strength but of the crisis of global capitalism and its European section. Greece’s debt was not written off because it would have led to similar demands from a whole chain of countries.
Economic commentator Wolfgang Munchau is clear about the consequences for the EU, wrighting in the Financial Times (July 13):
By forcing Alexis Tsipras into a humiliating defeat, Greece’s creditors have done a lot more than bring about regime change in Greece or endanger its relations with the eurozone. They have destroyed the eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union
In doing so they reverted to the nationalist European power struggles of the 19th and early 20th century. They demoted the eurozone into a toxic fixed exchange-rate system, with a shared single currency, run in the interests of Germany, held together by the threat of absolute destitution for those who challenge the prevailing order. The best thing that can be said of the weekend is the brutal honesty of those perpetrating this regime change.
In other words, the so-called European Project is finished. The smaller states will always be sacrificed for the larger ones and democracy simply will not be allowed to get in the way.
To end austerity and inequality, to break the power of the banks and major corporations, to abandon neo-liberalism, demands a thorough-going democratic transformation of the social system as a whole. The challenge is to develop new forms of democracy that enable us to transfer power away from the corporatocracy that is the EU, the IMF, the UK government and the rest.
The lesson of the present crisis is that channelling our energies through capitalist state structures – national or regional – whose main function is to preserve the status quo at all costs is to go down a cul de sac with costly consequences.
A World to Win editors
14 July 2015