Last night, while hundreds of thousands took to the Athens streets in protest, the Greek parliament approved yet another austerity bill. No one has any illusions that these measures or the loan extensions granted the EU will grant on the back of them will have any positive effect on the Greek economy. Not the politicans voting these measures through, the Eurocrats insisting on them, the bankers who gain from them, but above all not the people who will suffer for them. Its not so much that the mask has slipped but just that they can’t be bothered hiding the grotesque any longer.
The Greek people are acutely and painfully aware that they are being sold down the river to save the European banks and indeed the institution of the EU itself. Their welfare state crumbling, wages shrinking, communities contracting, vulnerable dying and their national assets being sold off…and all for what? Each time there is the same dance of bailout and austerity; each time the Greek people are told that they must accept these measures because the alternative is “unthinkable“; the alternative cannot be thought because within the capitalist ideology that governs nation states and their relations there is no room to consider a world based on people and their needs. Remove the blinkers of that ideology however and what is reveals is that it is the extent of misery and suffering being imposed which is unthinkable.
Watching the events in Greece unfold from Scotland, where the majority of the austerity measures have yet to kick in, the level of austerity being imposed on Greece is ominous and a portend of things to come. Acting as both a siren and a clarion call, Greece is not the only EU member state which cannot pay its debts and the level of economic violence being unleashed is terrifying. The death rate is rising, suicide rate has gone up 40%, life expectancy is falling and families are giving up children that they cannot afford to feed. In such a situation where serious poverty and hopelessness is killing people, life is found in the flicker of the flame. What good is an expensive coffee shop if it only serves as a mocking backdrop to the soup kitchen? Why fear being beaten and gassed by the police when the alternative is to be starved and choked by the economy. Why accept the rule of law when it is used to create such striking injustice?
In such times the question changes from “Why Riot?” to “Why Not!”
It is we the workers who built these palaces and cities … We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins.
Greece is becoming ungovernable. Papandreou, his ministers and other lackeys know this. It is not for nothing that they dare not show their faces in public and require security and protection where-ever they go. No longer willing to tolerate the economic bloodshed, the willingness to contemplate actual bloodshed is rising by the day. It was only the protection offered by fully tooled up police officers in riot gear which enabled the Greek Parliament to sit last night to pass these new austerity measures.
And yet the police feel the bite too. While workers in uniform is an overstatement of the class consciousness within the state security apparatus and the more favourable terms and conditions are traded for the loyalty that the state expects, they too see the devastation being wreaked and cannot help but wonder what exactly it is that they are defending. The continuance of the Greek state in its current form is dependent on the continued loyalty and dependence of the Greek police – willing to absorb the anger of the populace and put themselves bodily between an angry rioting crowd and politicians idling their time away in luxurious surroundings while Athens burns. The police then becomes a pivotal point of power. Any dissent in the ranks may well spread quickly, leading the government to declare martial law and bring in the army to hold onto its power and authority. The EU may have made it plain that they are not prepared to contemplate a default in a member state – but are they prepared to tolerate martial law instead? Should such a situation arise, the EU response will give an insight into exactly how far they are prepared to go to extract their pound of flesh, and how much they are willing to sacrifice.
Elections are coming up in a few months time. Politically Greece is a mess. There is no trust in political parties. Papandreou’s Pasok party commands less than 20% of the polls, with the main opposition drawing just over 30%. Almost half the voters polled suggested that no mainstream party or combination thereof was competent to lead the country. The electorate is fracturing both to the far left and the far right. It is doubtful whether the parliamentary left – as represented by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) – even if it were to raise its support to a level at which it could take power – could lead a political challenge to the governance being imposed on Greece and the tensions between the KKE and the anarchist wing of the resistance movement would not make for an easy ride. From the right should the a suitable narrative be established, a law and order agenda and a patriotic call to defend Greece from its enemies may prove dangerously attractive – just as it did in the Weimer Republic in the 1930s under similarly difficult economic circumstances.
It should be remembered that although Greece may be where antiquity discovered democracy, in modern times it has been one for less than 40 years – following the collapse of a right wing totalitarian military junta, which held its power through torture, fear and omniscient surveillance. While that regime may seem like ancient history to the young rebels on Athens streets, within national culture, institutions and apparatuses, ideology has a long memory. And despite the legacy of torture, repression and human rights abuses that occurred during this period, many look back on it favourably. Just ten years ago, over one in five Greeks considered that the Junta has been a positive period in Greece’s history.
While the radical movement in the UK is watching the struggle of the Greek people closely and supporting them in their struggle to resist the austerity measures being imposed on them, it would be remiss to ignore that there are element of the far right encircling the protests. The Golden Dawn has been feeding on the discontent of the populace; within mainstream politics, the usual scapegoats of drug addicts, prostitutes and immigrants are trotted out to explain the country’s woes and even within elements of the radical movement there are a diversity of views including a substantial individualist and nihilistic wing which may prove to be a reactionary force when push comes to shove.