Summer 2012, a report from Greece
by GEORGE CAFFENTZIS
1. Arrival in Thessaloniki. It is July 5 and I just have arrived in Thessaloniki full of questions concerning the political situation in Greece. My trusted and knowledgeable friend meets me at the airport. In response to my impatient questions he immediately begins the tale of what happened in Greece and in Thessaloniki in particular over the last year, as he drives us into the city.
Some of the story I knew from the media reports and my conversations with family members in Greece. It is the official economic story. Incomes for most working class families are down 40% while prices (for gasoline and electricity) are increasing by 30% or more, old taxes are increased, new taxes are being imposed and unemployment is at 1930s Depression levels.
Moreover, my friend describes the classic scenario of structural adjustment, the state is forcing workers to pay more in taxes while not paying its own bills to its providers and contractors. The University of Thessaloniki has, for example, refused (until further notice) to pay its contractors for work already done and it is not paying approved expenses of the faculty. This brought me back to my time in Nigeria in the mid-1980s when I was working as a professor of philosophy there during the first round of structural adjustment! I would follow my paycheck from office to office hoping to get it and cash it before it bounced.
This is hardly an environment for generating “growth” but it can be one that attracts investors looking for bargains…or, at least, the government is rumored to be on the verge of selling everything it is now committed to operating from schools to hospitals to transit systems to water distribution, if it can find a buyer.
All this is being done with the finesse of a psychological warfare team from the IMF (trained to impose structural adjustment programs around the world since the mid-1980s). The present scenario is that at first the population is terrorized (with massive cuts that look like they will drive you into penury, shame and absolute disaster), then there is a moment of holding back, so the cuts can be absorbed and normalized a bit (after all, there is often some extra, unreported income circulating around a family that can be netted in the moments of emergency), and, in the meantime, finding likely scapegoats and cracks of division among potentially threatening social forces.
The scapegoating and division is the part of the story that my friend tells that has been missing from the story of Greece in the Financial Times and other official media. It needs to be told, for it explains why there has been so little resistance to the spending cuts, tax increases and general silence since February and the run up to the two elections (after years of resistance that inspired the world). It is a story of the crisis of the streets of Greece and of the composition (or better, de-composition) of the Greek working class. The story in my friend’s account has two foci—Athens and Thessaloniki—where the left opposition to the structural adjustment of Greece has been divided, weakened, and frightened into a defensive position after a long period (beginning in December 2008) of having some control of the streets.
The Athens part of the story is alarming, but predictable. We all know that the Golden Dawn Party, which is openly supporting Nazi policies “for Greek conditions,” had a dramatic increase in the votes it received in the last two elections. Whereas it had less than 1% (where 3% is the minimum required to have any Parliamentary representative) of the votes before the elections, it now has more than 7%. This was a major electoral coup, but still it is a minor party. However, my friend noted that 50% of the Greek police voted for the Golden Dawn. I.e., from the point of view of the repressive arm of the state, the Nazi approach to social and economic is their politics. This situation, of course, opens up many vistas of horrors, especially for the official targets of the Nazi politics, immigrants. These immigrants, according to the Golden Dawn, are somehow part of a vast plot hatched by foreign bankers (with the Greek politicians as their traitorous accomplices) to destroy Greece and to take possession of its wealth. This modern Greek variant of the old Nazi myth of the international bankers’ conspiracy (with the Jewish part deleted in public for now) is crossed with a new social movement practice of claiming to “protect true Greeks” from the “encroachments” of immigrants (e.g., by going into hospitals and intimidating immigrant patients or by going into schools and frightening immigrant children). This “Casa Pound” tactic (coming out of the recent turn of fascist groups in Italy to open up social centers to rival those of the left) has been carried out in Athens with great effect. There are many immigrant neighborhoods where residents are afraid to go out at night for fear of being attacked.
My friend said that the electoral Left believed that it would be adequate to take a stand against the troika – the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank (and now the World Bank which would make it more a carriage than a troika) – to win state power. But clearly such an approach did not defang the racist and anti-immigrant sentiments that were circulating and amplifying in the Greek proletariat in the last few years. Electoral leftists, though not condoning anti-immigrant pogroms of course, thought it best to keep a low profile on the issue in the interest of “a greater unity” that was shaping up during the struggle against the austerity policies of an increasingly authoritarian European Union.
In fact, the electoral Left’s strategy with respect to the rise of openly Nazi-sympathizing politics in Greece has backfired again and again. Thus, when it began to appear that the Golden Dawn Party was going to have a better than expected showing in the first election, a number of socialist politicians gravely warned against this development and called on the Greek public to reject the party at this polls. This appeal seemed to only bring more voters to the Golden Dawn because, perhaps, they were acting according to the adage of “an enemy (the Golden Dawn) of my enemy (PASOK) is my friend.” Similarly, after a now-famous TV show where a Golden Dawn supporter beat up an elderly female journalist, who was a Communist Party official, right in front of the cameras, the CP called on Greek voters to turn against a party represented by such thugs. The second election’s results showed that such appeals were fruitless, indeed the CP ended with about 4% of the vote while the Golden Dawn had almost twice as much (more than 7%).
In the midst of the electoral campaigns in the Spring of 2012, violent attacks on immigrant neighborhoods continued unopposed by either the Greek state or the social movements (with a few exceptions). Indeed, though Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were most often attacked. But even Egyptians (who were specialized fishermen with legal status in Greece for decades) found themselves, to their own amazement, on the receiving end of racist violence. Only the most aggressive and well-organized elements of the immigrant population were able to defend themselves, but with the consequence that this led to an inward fracturing of the larger immigrant community as well, with the attitude of “save what you can of your own” dominating.
There is nothing mysterious about the power of the racist elements officially represented by the Gold Dawn Party. It, of course, relies first, and foremost, on the complicity of the police who look the other way when attacks on immigrants take place. Indeed, the statistic concerning the electoral preference of the majority of the policemen mentioned above implies that there is plenty of communication and cooperation between racist militants and the official state. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are seeing the formation of a para-military organization that extends the state’s “monopoly of violence” far beyond its official borders. Such “institutions,” of course, have proven essential to the execution of structural adjustment policies all over the world.
So, although the left-wing alliance, the Syriza Party, had an even greater electoral success than the Gold Dawn (leaping in a few years from negligible status to becoming the main opposition party in the Parliament with 28% of the vote), this electoral success can be blown away like a house of ballot cards in the next election whereas the racists have been building “on the ground” cadres and a real penetration in proletarian communities with the cover of the police. My friend warned that if there isn’t a response ”on the ground” by the Left, parliamentary and/or non-parliamentary, an even graver disaster beckons.
The second source of the racist right’s power is its connection with the world of criminality (from the drug trade to the sex trade to the immigrant trafficking trade) that gives it access to a lot of ready and unaccounted-for money. For the racist is never at a loss in “working with” while exploiting the “inferiors” as long as they are recognized to be inferior, i.e., as petty drug dealers and/or addicts, as prostitutes, as undocumented workers. For example, it is known that a number of supporters of the racist right are involved in moving immigrants from Turkey to Greece and from Greece into Italy (the cost for the former service is 400 Euros and for the latter it is 4000 euros). So the attacks on immigrants in Greece put added pressure on them to leave Greece ASAP and to come up with the hefty price of admission to Italy and beyond. One part of the immigrant cycle fits in with the other part quite deftly.
The complex mixture of police, racists and criminality creates a great power on the ground and can become a decisive force during an emergency (social, political and/or economic). But the lineaments of this combination are nothing new. We find them in 1848-51 in Paris and in the 1920s in Germany, and so we should not be surprised that they are appearing in Greece, especially in Athens, in the midst of the crisis.
My friend notes, however, that there is an aspect of the present that has other predecessors: pre-1917 Russia for one, since it is marked by the appearance of self-described “nihilist anarchists.” According to my friend, these anarchists have taken as their immediate opponents, not the symbols or instruments of the state, but those they have been calling “social anarchists.” The supposed justification being that the “reformists” (aka, “social anarchists”) stop everyone from realizing that the true struggle of this period is to be determined as much by the will to use force as by any technology. These convictions, according to some, have led to a “war among the rebels” on Greece’s streets, especially in Thessaloniki.
This division among the anarchists has given the police the opportunity to use a new tactic. They have decided to identify the factions as two separate criminal organizations that are fighting for territory in Thessaloniki. On the basis of this legal hypothesis the police have recently arrested 18 from each side, but they released the arrested after a few days detention. The political eyes of the city and beyond are looking carefully to see if the police have hit upon an effective tactic to demobilize some of the most powerful forces that could be arrayed against the previous austerity Memorandum with the troika and the future cuts in social spending.
The cause of this situation is presently unknown, though it has become the source of much recrimination and debate in extra-parliamentary circles in Greece. Could it be the product of a tactic from the bag of “dirty tricks” now found in police practice around the world? It might be, of course, or then again it could be a genuine outgrowth of this time of despair and futility for some young Greeks who had been promised so much as citizens of “a new post-Cold War Europe” and now have become the butt of degrading racist jokes emanating from Northern Europe. How can one comfortably brush aside nihilist sentiments – let’s destroy it all! – unless one appeals to the many who refuse to be treated as collateral damage of an action that puts such sentiments in action?
On the basis of my friend’s account, I conclude that the resolution of the “big” questions of political economy then – e.g., whether remaining in the euro zone is an advantage to the Greek working class (immigrants-especially-included)? – depend upon the forces in the field, including the class’ unity (or lack thereof). Thus these issues ride upon the back of a field of forces appearing as the police-protected, Nazi-like pogroms of immigrants and “a war among the [anarchist] rebels.” The pogroms and “war” will have consequence for any effort to chart an anti-capitalist direction out the crisis. So I urge the readers of this account to cast a cold and sober eye on the proceedings on the streets and in courtrooms of Greece in the coming months as the crisis deepens.
2. Discussion with Comrades in Athens
I arrived in Athens on July 11 and stayed for a week giving talks and interviewing comrades in the city. I put together a collective account of the crisis that had much overlap with my Thessalonikian friend’s, though there were important additional insights that should prove useful.
The first thing I asked about was the resistance to the austerity/structural adjustment measures in Greece. The comrades gave the example of the manifold resistance to a diabolical taxation trick developed by the Greek government in its desperate effort to satisfy the conditions of the Memoranda. The trick was to attach a tax bill on to the already increased electricity bill. Thus, if you did not pay your tax, your electricity would be turned off, even though you had paid the electricity portion of the total bill! This was not an idle threat. Although such a measure was not yet massively applied, everyone seemed to know of individual cases. This trick generated an enormous outrage in the more than forty neighborhood assemblies in the Athens metropolitan area as well as throughout the country.
This led to both legal and extra-legal responses. As for the latter, in one neighborhood there were about 2000 families that refused to pay the tax bill (out of an area that comprised about 50,000 families) while in all the country there were refusal rates up to 35%. The varied refusal rate was, of course, due to the memory of experiences of struggle and the level of support that could be relied on in each of neighborhoods. This could be seen in the neighborhoods that traditionally voted for the Greek Communist Party (KKE) like Ikaria. The KKE along dozens of other leftist and anarchist ones supported non-compliance with the hybrid electricity/tax and their members helped organize groups of electricians to reconnect people whose electricity was shut off due to their refusal to pay the tax portion of their bill.
There was also a legal response in the courts (that included in a number of places the assistance of municipal officials). The lawyers argued for the refusers that the hybrid electricity bill/tax was unconstitutional and that the electric company had no right to cut off one’s electricity supply if s/he had paid their bill. It was irrelevant whether they paid their tax. This led to a ruling by the appeals court that supported the refusers, viz., the electricity company could not cut off the electrical supply of a customer that had paid their electricity bill, even if they had not paid their tax portion. The court decided that the tax office had to collect the tax without this accounting trick that literally held a gun to the head of the tax-payer.
Of course, this outcome has upset the government. In response, there is increased pressure to privatize the electricity company and to open up Greece to all sorts of ecologically and economically questionable schemes around electrical power generation. In government circles, instead of neoliberalism being the cause of the crisis, neoliberalism (with its across-the-board privatization of state and common resources) is being called upon to be its solution! This “solution” is not being accepted by the many in the population who are looking for other ways out the crisis than those offered by the new governing alliance of the conservative New Democracy Party with the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) and the Democratic Left.
Inevitably, some are desperate to avoid blaming the capitalist system for the crisis and not to see it as a threat to their livelihoods (and lives). Instead they see the crisis as a conspiracy of international bankers (not yet openly identified as Jewish) using immigrants to destroy the pure (and racially superior) Greek culture and wealth. Their program is not national socialist, in the sense that they reject “socialism” (i.e., the state co-managing the economy with big capital). If anything, their economic program is a form of “national neoliberalism.” They call for leaving the euro zone and expelling immigrants (especially from Africa and the Middle East) or sending them to work camps. In practice they carry on pogroms against immigrants, and attacks on anarchists and even against the KKE members throughout Athens in armed gangs (resembling the para-military “Frei Corps” of the post-WWI era). These gangs include “homeland” Greeks, Pontos Greeks (from the Northern Black Sea) and, yes, even some Albanians! Of course, these gangs operate with the active complicity of the police.
The political expression of these attitudes and actions is the Golden Dawn Party that I described in the previous section. But my Athenian comrades note that some of groundwork for the emergence of the Golden Dawn Party into official parliamentary politics is due to at least two developments.
First, a generalized anti-immigrant attitude was supported by PASOK when it was in power. For example, the socialist minister of health in the interim government was continually blaming the existence of HIV and other diseases in Greece on the immigrants (in particular immigrant prostitutes) and their “dirty” habits, continually showing photos of immigrants who were homeless and/or junkies in the streets of Athens. It was at this point that a campaign was started against an allegedly HIV-positive young immigrant prostitute that involved placing her photos all over the media. Inevitably, this campaign expanded to doing the same to Greek allegedly HIV-positive prostitutes.
My comrades claim that the second support for the Golden Dawn Party has come from the political attitude of the Left that participated in the Syntagma Square movement of the summer of 2011 (where hundreds often camped out and thousands gathered nightly in the square in front of the Parliament Building). These organizations were all committed to a kind of nationalist Left Keynesianism. So when the source of the debt crisis and the question of the euro were turned into “Greek” issues by the right-wing groups that appeared there, they could not be sufficiently challenged by the Left who shared the nationalist assumptions. So the euro and the debt could not be understood as class matters, i.e., as attacks on the working class not only of Greece, but of all of Europe. Because the crisis was understood by the mass of people as an attack on Greeks and the Greek nation, with the New Democracy and PASOK politicians being called “traitors” rather than being called what they really are – loyal servants of collective capitalism – the Golden Dawn Party rhetoric resonated much more powerfully than it should have. This, according to my Athenian comrades, set the stage for its presence in the Parliament in 2012.
These are my notes from conversations with comrades in Thessaloniki and Athens in July of 2012. They give a sense of the thinking of some people whose judgment I trust in the Greek extra-parliamentary area during a period when the struggle is not expressing itself in the mass confrontations between protesters and police that we have often seen between December 2008 and the Spring of 2012. I, of course, do not necessarily agree with all the views presented here. My own understanding of the situation in Greece today can be found in the following text of talks I gave in Thessaloniki and Ionnina on July 16 and 17 of this year.
3. Text of Talks in Thessaloniki and Athens
Stopping The Experiment
By George Caffentzis
- Who will free the debtors from their bondage?
- Only debtors can free debtors from their bondage.
- Patterned on Brecht’s poem, “None or All”
Something is happening in Greece in the summer of 2012 that is unprecedented. In such a small country millions of people are lying awake at night worrying about how they and their families will eat, stay warm, or have a hospital to go to in an emergency in the coming year. This is due to an experiment run by officials at the highest financial and political levels in Europe and at international financial agencies like the IMF and World Bank. They are testing Greeks to determine what are:
* the lower physiological limits of wages and pension payments in a contemporary European country,
* the maximum amounts of state-owned subterranean natural resources, land, ocean territory, the railroad system, hospitals that can be sold in the shortest amount of time,
*the maximum increases in the size and variety of taxes,
…without provoking revolution and/or civil war.
This is an experiment that our animal rights friends would call “cruel and inhuman.” They would consider it their moral duty to stop it if the experiment involved cats and dogs. Workers, especially Italian and Spanish workers, must join the Greeks in putting a stop to this Europe-wide experiment, for they too are experimental subject, as they should know. However, though Merkel, Monti, Samaras, and Rajoy meet almost daily to plot the results of their experiment and prepare for the next step, there are no continued joint meetings or assemblies of workers’ trade unions, social movements and debtors’ organizations with counter-plans and strategies. This lack of coordination and solidarity makes for a decisive weakness in this struggle around debt.
- In this talk on the crisis I will answer the following questions in order to think more clearly about this need for coordination. For I believe that this crisis not a simple one of over-production or disproportion of sectors that is the product of the normal functioning of the capitalist machine and that will pass, but that it is a planned experiment (whose end is the primitive accumulation of a new type of human being).
* Why is this experiment being done?
** How can it be done?
*** What can be done to stop it?
**** What if it is not stopped?
* This experiment is being run because the last century of social and class struggle in Europe has made the rate of exploitation and profit too low for capitalists in the Europe of the 21st century. The introduction of the euro a decade ago was a failed experiment aimed at increasing the profitability of European capital (i.e., capital employed in Europe). It has been a grave disappointment to capitalists. The currency manipulation and the cutting of “transaction costs” the euro allowed were not able to challenge the structures that workers over many strikes, street demonstrations, and eventually war have built to make their lives safer, less risky and longer (and cut the profits of their bosses).
For European capitalism to survive this period of globalization, wages must be reduced, public property, instead of becoming common, must be privatized and whatever wealth workers have accumulated to deal with emergencies must be taxed away to pay the national debt that has been generated to prevent bank failures! Workers of all sorts, industrial and service, skilled and unskilled, undocumented and documented, material and immaterial must be made to cut their demands and accept the minimum (with thanks!). This crisis experiment is a desperate move on the part of the capitalists, of course, but its success depends on treating each country and working class one-at-a-time and keeping them separated as much as possible.
** Often, when watching these “troika” summits in Brussels (where officials of the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank meet) one gets a feeling that they are choreographed. This feeling is not mistaken, because there have been many previous structural adjustments, beginning in the former colonized world since the early 1980s. By structural adjustment programs I mean those programs (often called “loan conditionalities”) that are imposed on governments in order to qualify for loans from some international financial agency. These programs usually involve the mass layoff of government workers, the privatization of public property and the cutting of government investment (health, education, social assistance) in the reproduction of the working class. Social scientists from the IMF and World Bank have studied a wide variety of structural adjustment programs that were imposed on dozens of countries in the 1980s through much of the 1990s. Indeed, at the end of the 1990s the experimenters decided that the very name “structural adjustment” was so hated by people throughout the “adjusted” world that they changed the name of the program to “poverty reduction strategy papers” (PRSP). These “papers” were to be written by government officials of countries that were to receive loans from the IMF and/or World Bank. The Fund and Bank were to oversee these papers and determine whether they showed how the loans were to be used to “reduce poverty,” i.e., provide the institutions of a reliable capitalist territory (including, of course, open tickets for military and police expenditure). These papers were to create “ownership” for the…shall we still call them…structural adjustment programs and their neoliberal nostrums on the part of the “stakeholders” including government officials, private capitalists and “civil society”=NGOs.
For we must realize that though there have been dozens of governments that have signed off on receiving loans from the World Bank and IMF, these governments have not necessarily implemented the loan conditionalities, either because they genuinely wanted to, but faced enormous opposition (e.g., Saddam’s Iraq, where the veterans of the Iraq-Iran War refused to accept austerity programs in the late 1980s, leading to the first Gulf War) or just the governments’ leader was interested in scamming the Fund and Bank (e.g., Liberia’s Doe who brought in World Bank officials to oversee government accounts while he fed them statistical “evidence” that was simply cooked by Doe’s accomplices in government agencies in order justify more loans; once the scam eventually was revealed, the US government decided to support Charles Taylor in the Liberian civil war in the 1980s).
These experiments in structural adjustment require a detailed history of their own, since they led to the death (either directly or indirectly) of millions of people. That is right, these programs with such a clinically sounding name are murderous. Directly, these deaths were due to the consequences of not having subsidized basic food rations, or freely available health-care (either curative or preventative, e.g., SAPs led to the end of malaria control investments in Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to millions of additional death). Indirectly, these deaths were due to civil wars that have arisen with the World Bank’s “pro-extractivist” policies that have made the foreign investment in extractivist industries preferred vehicles for GNP growth.
The reason why the Great Experiment is passing here in Greece, perhaps, is because European (especially Greek) workers can’t quite believe that this is really happening to them. For (with the exception of the widespread, but politically limited, anti-globalization movement), when the structural adjustment programs were being applied to African, South American and Asian peoples, European and North American workers were not concerned, if indeed they took the time to notice them at all. “That was for the dark-skinned people,” they might have thought, assuming that such policies would not be applied to them! That is why the present reaction to the application of structural adjustment programs in Europe (especially in Greece) is approached with horror.
Indeed, I find this reaction similar to the horror that Hitler and the Nazis generated in European workers. Aime Cesaire, the great communist poet and politician from Martinique, analyzed this horror with great insight in the 1950s (see his Discourse on Colonialism). He argued that this horror is based on the fact that Hitler and the Nazis applied to Europeans tactics and ideologies that European capitalists and colonialists normally used against the colonized people. For example, King Leopold of Belgium’s policies let to the death of four to six million Congolese in the late 19th century. What, besides differences in detail, can be drawn between his work-to-death camps (and I refuse the word “genocide,” as if the problem in the Leopold’s Congo had something to do with Congolese genes!) with Auschwitz? Similar Nazi consequences can be drawn for other aspects of colonial rule that involved, for example, taking ownership of vast territories by fiat and enclosing them after driving the indigenous population to hinterlands and mass death due to disease and starvation. What, beside difference in detail, differentiated these colonial land policies and the Nazi lebensraum policy of clearing large areas of conquered territory in preparation for the arrival of German neo-peasants in the victorious post-war future?
That was the horror of Hitler, and this is the horror of Merkel: the structural adjustment programs that were used to attack and transform the economies and humanity in so-called underdeveloped countries in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s, has finally become reflexive: the fellow citizens of the structural adjusters are being structurally adjusted. That is why there is so much outrage and unprecedented fear, for this is not supposed to be happening…after all, Greeks joined the EU in order to be treated like human beings, which means unlike Africans, Latin Americans or Asians! In fact, Greeks are learning now that the price of complicity with racist division makes it inevitable that racist behavior will be direct at you! This being a simple application of that famous dialectical principle of “What goes around, comes around.”
*** What can be done to stop the Great Experiment?
Although nationalist attempts to stop structural adjustment policies have not proved promising in the past, the political will to intervene and stop the experiment seems at the moment to be in the hands of nationalists in Europe. There is a nationalism from the Right and one from the Left. In Greece the anti-structural adjustment Right advocates are popularizing their effort by the tag “for Greeks only.” In practice they organize racist pogroms (especially in Athens) periodically orchestrated by the police. These right-wing nationalists (the Nazi-like Golden Dawn, in Greece) and some regionalists (like the Northern League in Italy) appear to many, especially in the midst of widespread unemployment, increasing poverty and massive bankruptcy of small businesses, as being able to respond to immediate political and economic problems. Of course, we easily dismiss these fascist provocations empirically, since one cannot (with serious evidence) claim that immigrants are the source of European-wide state deficits or major bank failures or even unemployment among Greek, Spanish or Italian citizens.
Nationalists on the Left (with a Keynesian persuasion) would argue not against immigration, but the lack of autonomy of the Greek government’s macro-economic policy as the source of the crisis. They, like the right-wing “extremists” argue for leaving the Euro-zone, but in their case, the answer is fiscal policy that can deal with unemployment and the lack of effective demand. But such a “Keynesianism in one country” approach is theoretically problematic, since the Greece of the present day is not an autarkic economy situated in outer space. It would need to have outside allies both defensively and as supporters to face the determined efforts of the powers that be to undermine its effort at default.
Indeed, if we want to see what can actually undermine the structural adjusters is by listening to their worst fears, and that is a debtors’ cartel. For debt repayment depends upon isolating and making the debtor feel both morally ashamed and practically vulnerable. Once the debtors are united, however, they can “turn the tables” on the creditors and liberate themselves. We can see why debtors’ solidarity is a path to liberation, because debt is not simply a way for a creditor to get rich, but in the world of contemporary capitalism, it is a way of controlling individuals’, societies’ and governments’ behavior. The whole desire of getting out of debt is not simply to have more disposable income, but to liberate yourself from the control of creditors!
The great experience we have witnessed of a successful reaction to structural adjustment reforms has been in South America in the last fifteen years. It had its roots in the anti-debtors’ social movements there that eventually transformed official politics in the form of the Chavez, Lula, Morales and Kirchner administrations that were able to escape the clutches of the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment demands, to start a new type of social reform capitalism (that many call “socialism for the 21st century”). These movements and the governments they pushed were in communication and coordinated across borders, often because of their indigenous composition.
The problem with this example, of course, is its statist expression and its often problematic denouements, but this does not negate the immediate lesson, it is only with an international connection of workers’ movements that the power to refuse being isolated in one’s debt can be achieved. That is why it is top priority that Greeks not be isolated and at the very least coordinate with European, especially Italian and Spanish, working class organizations.
**** What if the Grand Experiment is not stopped?
There is a tradition in the philosophy of science that sees the experiment not as an objective vehicle to test theories, but as a way of “torturing” Nature (and Society), to use Francis Bacon’s metaphor, to produce results desired by the experimenter. In a development of this conception, Giambatista Vico noted, in an anti-Cartesian moment, that “We only know what we make.” So too we are witnessing a Great Experiment in the making of a new neoliberal humanity through the crisis. Will the neoliberal model of what it is to be a human being become definitive for the next fifty years?
A decisive defeat of working class struggles in this period will not only involve a multitude of personal pain, but a collective loss of what was once thought to be the sedimentation of workers’ struggles over the last century and a half, i.e., the end of “progress” from the proletarian perspective. A defeat in Greece will reverberate around the world and undermine workers’ struggles everywhere. Marx argued that the value of labor power had a “moral and historic element,” i.e., it was not defined by some physiological index like calories consumed per day. Thus a defeat in preserving the value of labor power of the dimensions we are witnessing in Greece over the last two years will have a profoundly depreciative impact not only on wages, but also on what “value“ and “labor power” and humanity will mean across the planet. It will bring out the two-sided aspect of the slogan, “We are all Greeks!”
Can we free each other from capital’s cages?