Concrete web-magazine

11Jan/130

We’ll all be Greeks

Within months the crisis of market economy has managed to do to Greece what in past eras required brutal wars or devastating natural desasters. First hit by the sudden (but hardly unexpected) end of the speculative growth, especially on the real estate market, Greece was then amongst the countries hit hardest by the public debt crisis. By the droves investors lost faith in the Greek governments ability to repay loans given generously in the past and the refinancing with additional loans that had worked so well in the past and which had helped to keep global economy growing suddenly became unsustainable, as the decreasing faith of investors directly translated into increasing interest rates, making the tried and tested modus operandi of the last decades too costly to keep up. Greece was hardly special in any way, at least concerning their economic hardships, and that it could have hit any country within the Eurozone was patently clear wherever perception wasn't clouded by racist rhetorics about the "lazy southerners". Worse, should the Greek economy collapse, it could cause a domino effect that would send the entire Eurozone - and with it the world - into a downward spiral and deeper into global recession. After all, large parts of the public debt of Greece were loans given by other European states or their biggest banks and this debt - and especially the interest paid for it - was capital with which both operated and paid bills of their own.

It therefore wasn't out of kindness of heart that other nations of the Eurozone repeatedly handed out loans with interest rates unavailable to Greece on the free market or that they promised to service some of Greeces debt should the small mediterranean country default after all. In order to save their own money, Germany and co. had to rebuy public faith in the Greek state and its ability to pay. It is doubtful that, in case of a Greek failure to pay, the remaining Eurozone could stay true to their promises in regards to Greek debt even if they wanted to, but they don't have to prove it. The only important part is, that the market public believes in this guarantuee and starts to invest into loans to the Greek government again. At the core of this there is a "back to normality" policy that seeks to enable the Greek government to continue deficit spending like other governments. That this is deeply paradox, considering the crisis has clearly shown the limits of this attempt to import purely fictive future growth and turn it into real present economic growth, is clear, but illustrates only an inability to do politics beyond this point within the framework of capitalist economy.

However, if we can't move forward, maybe we can move backwards? The other answer to the problems of capitalist economics that doesn't touch capitalism itself, instead of a "borrow and spend" politics loosely based on Keynesian economics, is the neoclassical approach that seeks to take the state out of the equation by cutting its debts. At the core of neoclassical thinking is a deeply religious faith in a "natural order of the market" and the belief that, once interferences by state and organized labor are removed, the market will strike an equilibrium of growth on a high level. Ironically, Europe has attempted to do both: save Greece through a semi-Keynesian public investment of its memberstates into the Greek state, but at the same time force Greece - especially due to demands from Germany - to enact a historically unprecedented austerity program. This two-faced chimaire leaves its marks throughout European politics in the age of crisis. Europe's central bank pursues a policy of flooding the markets with money to promote economic growth, Europe's economists flood society with cheap metaphors about states being housewives who now need to tighten one's belt.

But states aren't housewives and their expenditures is a very important part of the economy. What austerity measures do in times of crisis can be witnessed in Greece, where saying the economy collapsed is a bit of an understatement. Starving schoolchildren, a ballooning number of homeless people, widespread poverty and unemployment. What we witness in Greece isn't just a temporary mistake, an error of capitalist history caused by faulty politics - it is the ugly face of the market baring its teeth. There is enough food to feed everyone in Greece - lavishly. All the houses where the now homeless used to live are still as good as they used to be when people still lived in them and they could easily offer shelter to them again. And isn't it ironic that, while more than one quarter of the workforce is registered as unemployed, those who still got employment are forced to work longer, both in terms of workhours and in terms of age before retirement? The market is a mad end of itself which considers a growing number of people dispensable - and proceeds to dispense them - but never dares to question its own maxims.

And don't dare to question it! As much as Greece as a image of things to come for the rest of the capitalist center in terms of economic hardships, Greece is also a textbook example of how bourgeoise society and government will deal with the social unrest in its wake. If the impoverished masses grow unruly and won't allow for themselves to be removed from the equation peacefully (i.e. starve), capitalist accumulation will be maintained with all means available. However, considering that economic crisis doesn't just decrease affordable income of the vast majority of people, but also that of the state, Greece is facing a dilemma that the capitalist world faced before after the great crisis of 1929 : how to combat a growing number of restless and poor with decreasing funds?

The answer can be summarized as "find an enemy" and "enlist deputies". Both aren't necessarily centrally orchestrated, but the state will gladly seek to take advantage of any such phenomenas where they blossom in the public. Enemies the Greek citizens have identified many, some classic (immigrants, jews), some seemingly not (bankers, the rich, Germans). However, they all share one common characteristic: to find someone to blame for the hardships, someone who willingly caused the sudden poverty sweeping the nation. Stereotypes of lazy immigrants taking advantage of the modern welfare state land themselves as a handy explanation to a growing public deficit; the idea of a jewish world conspiracy has always blossomed in times of economic crisis because of its simplicity in face of a complex situation; even the idea that the banks are responsible for the crisis due to their speculation or the rich due to their massive tax fraud or the Germans due to their government demanding strict adherence to austerity policies are all obscuring the issue at hand, despite the fact that speculation, tax fraud and German politics are very real whereas welfare-queens and jewish conspiracy are not.

When Greece is persecuting and publically shaming rich tax offenders it will endanger the survival of capitalism as little as it will, when it raids camps of illegalized immigrants and begins mass deportations. However, if it watched idly as the hungry masses take their food from the supermarkets without paying, that would be quite another story. The success of Golden Dawn can be explained as much with it servicing all the ressentiment and all the easy explanations in search of someone guilty for a problem that is in fact created by an apersonal and blind "machine" of public markets, as it can be explained with the fact that they are willing to do all the jobs the police can't. Half of the Greek police voted for the Neo-fascists of Golden Dawn, according to some estimates, and there is more than one Greek citizen saying that, when he or she asked the police for help, they were referred to Golden Dawn. When I say that the government enlists the help of the fascists to sweep the streets, do not misunderstand this as orders from the top brass, the politicians whose faces we see in the newspapers or on TV. It's those who actually have to deal with the everyday problems, the police officers and the beuraucrats, who are amongst the first to enlist the help of professional political thugs.

The anticapitalist left is facing troublesome problems in such times. Many of its positions, many of its rhetorics and many beliefs of their public speakers lend themselves handily to the neofascist rhetorics. They may not share the racism of Golden Dawn, but often times, they are as much in search of some actual group of persons to blame that they fail to criticise capitalism itself. But if they don't criticise the idea that "just the banks" are responsible for the crisis, or just Germany's self-righteous demands, they will seem like the weaker, the less radical and the less consequential answer to the issues of the people. It may only be a small step from the idea that a bunch of scrupelous bankers brought the crisis upon us to the idea that a bunch of scrupelous jews did it, but it will seem that the left does not dare to speak it out due to the shackles of political correctness. And if Greece is assaulted by German imperialism, die-hard Nationalists will seem better suited to defend it than the Anarchists, who want the Greek nation abolished. On top of this all, the idea that bankers, or German politicans, or immigrants or jews caused all the trouble has at its core the idea that capitalism was working just well for the Greek people, unless some outside force disturbed the natural order of things.

But the crisis is a consequence of capitalism itself, of its inability to grow beyond this point. Material wealth may reach historically unknown dimensions, but when less and less work is needed to produce it, a society that has put money and trade at the center of human interaction will face a dilemma: who is to buy all these goods? It's not like this simple question could cause capitalism to rethink itself. Its elites will instead administrate the poverty, the loss and the shortage - with all means available. If you ever asked yourself why  the Greek state is raiding squatted houses in Athens, arresting hundreds in the process, or engaging in massive deportation campaigns against illegalized immigrants, but at the same time not only seems oblivious to Golden Dawn, but actively supports its attempts to root itself in Greek society: this is the core of it. Golden Dawn does not threaten capitalism, but it provides much needed raw force to deal with those who do.

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