This guest article by my friend NL, who has been active in the Greek workers’ movement for more than thirty years, puts the political and economic crisis into historical context, and gives a harsh but realistic assessment of the problems facing the workers’ movement. GL.
Greece is living through its biggest crisis since the downfall of the military junta in the summer of 1974 – a consequence of the world economic crisis and the historical decadence of the Greek bourgeois elite.
The same internal tendencies – with more or less the same characteristics as in the USA in 2008, at the beginning of the world economic crisis – are manifested in Greece today in an explosive form.
All the social conquests of the working class since 1974 have been lost in the last three years. Since the end of the second world war, there has never been, in a period of peace, such a dramatic decline in the standard of living of the majority of the population of any country in Europe, or such a violent redistribution of wealth in such a limited time.
The crisis has given rise to an assault not only on the working class, but also on the middle class, which is being destroyed today. And here it should be noted that in 2009 the petty bourgeoisie is two or three times larger, as part of a proportion of the total population, than in the so-called developed capitalist countries.
In November 2012, unemployment reached 30% – and 80% of the unemployed received no benefits. Since 2009, the real income of ordinary people has been reduced by 40%. And the downfall will continue in the next year.
The minimum daily wage for people below the age of 25 is 22 euros, and for those above 25, 26 euros. Three million people, in a population of less than 11 million, are living below the poverty line. There are 40,000 homeless. The suicide rate is rising dramatically especially among the destroyed middle class. In tens of thousands of homes, the electricity has been cut off. Crime is rife.
Apart from the use of barbaric police violence against demonstrators, in order to pass the “austerity” measures, scientifically organised propaganda has been used – such as that used by Thatcher in the UK in the 1980s, the sort of propaganda described in The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein and the work of Noam Chomsky.
Since 1974 in Greece there has been a big feast, the participants in which have been the ruling class, layers of the middle class and a small elite of people working in the public sector – that is, the main supporters of the bourgeois democracy established in 1974.
This feast was based on cruel labour exploitation in the private sector. In Greece the minimum wage has been extremely low for decades, taking into account the country’s level of development and in comparison to the situation in other European countries. Another big contribution to the feast was the arrival after 1989 of hundreds of thousands of immigrants willing to work under any conditions.
On the other hand we have the unlimited borrowing of money by a mafia type of state, which increased the state’s external debt to 300 billion euros – not to mention an extra 200 billion euros received over a thirty-year period from various EU programmes, as subsidies, loans under plans for a supposed modernisation of the country.
These sums, generated by the exploitation of the European working class, were shared among the vultures of capital large and small. They were never used for any modernisation – and they led to today’s catastrophe, with the shrinking of the country’s productive base … and to total moral depravity.
The crisis we face today is not like the circular crises that occurred during times of capitalist prosperity. It is a structural crisis of the capital system as a whole.
Now the party is over. The petty bourgeoisie is being totally destroyed, the parts of the public sector that deal with social services are shrinking, the military are being drilled for urban combat. And racists and fascists are entering the scene in massive numbers.
The rapid development in recent months of the fascist party, Golden Dawn – which today has the support of about 10% of the population – should sound the alarm. This party unites not only downfallen middle class people, but also a large number of young people in their twenties, often unskilled workers whose cultural basis has been destroyed. They believe that the people responsible for their situation are foreign immigrants, bankers, Jews, Turks and treacherous politicians.
Until recently the Golden Dawn party was only a small, marginal group. But forces within the state machine have trained them to do the dirty work of Greek capital.
During the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, groups of Greek fascists participated in ethnic cleansing there together with their Serbian brothers – and with protection from the Greek state, Greek capitalists and the Greek parliament. At that time very few voices spoke out against this – and those voices were lost in the mass demonstrations of tens of thousands of nationalists, right and “left” alike.
Those same forces who demonstrated in support of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in Serbia and Radovan Karadic, the leader of the nationalist Serb forces in Bosnia, are the same people who today say that Germany is responsible for the situation in Greece – identifying today’s Germany with Hitler and deliberately putting aside the fact that social classes and class conflict exist in Germany. At the same time, in Germany, populist newspapers are writing that the Greeks and other southern Europeans are responsible for the decline in the standard of living of the German working class.
These are the divide-and-rule tactics of capital, cynically using nationalism to disorient the forces of labour and impose austerity measures for social control.
While a large part of the Greek population is living in poverty, the Greek capitalists and middle classes have suffered no decline whatsoever in their standard of living, since they have deposited more than 600 billion euros in banks abroad – and do not pay any taxes, thanks to the mafia that prevails in state taxation institutions. And even without that, the rich are taxed less than supermarket employees, because they use offshore companies.
Meanwhile, backstage, the elites are at war among themselves as to who will prevail as a result of the crisis. Chinese, Russian and Arab oligarchs, along with Israeli capitalists – especially from the energy sector – are arriving in Greece, preparing to join in a great plunder and to establish spheres of influence, while the economic war between the EU and the USA over intensifies over Athens.
Today at the top of the Greek bourgeoisie are the Greek shipowners, the largest maritime power in the world, controlling about 23% of world shipping and operating like an international mafia. They, along with the church, are not taxed at all!
These shipowners, along with the bankers, the Federation of Greek Industrialists and the mass media barons control the bourgeois poltiicians, most of the leading journalists and most of the intellectuals.
Despite the strikes, the mass demonstrations outside parliament and the clashes with the police, the working class has not managed to stop the international assault of capital that it faces.
The proportion of private sector workers belonging to trade unions is less than 10%, while the top of the trade union bureaucracy is governed by trade union professionals – left and right wing party members, who function as the system’s guards against working-class power.
The left-wing parties of capital and various sects play a reactionary role, since they cynically use the divde-and-rule method – nationalism, messianism, utopias, delusions and slanders. Some of them support Stalinism; others were financed by Ceaucescu, the Romanian Stalinist dictator, in the past. Others still support Maoism; others supported Saddam Hussein or the Ayatollah Khomeini in the past.
A few of these parties dream of taking state power in the name of the working class, while some left-wing economists, such as those in the Syriza party, await the day when they will become ministers of finance, or bank executives, proposing Keynesian policies as the supposed alternative solution to the structural crisis of capital.
Unfortunately, independent voices and uncaptive minds are still a very small minority in Greek society. But it is important that they get together to discuss about how to smash fascism; about what kind of society we want; about how labour will obtain the material basis of society in order to take the next steps; and about transitional demands. We need to discuss how the way can be opened to a society beyond capital.
NL, Athens, November 2012