Having recently spent five wonderful weeks in several parts of Greece, I return to Montreal refreshed. I was often reminded by acquaintances, friends and comrades throughout this turbulent period that this civilization goes back in history for a very long time, and having also survived 400 years of ruthless Turkish occupation, and the first war of national liberation ending in the partial victory of 1831, all this and more are sign posts. Since then the Greeks have had only a few years here and there of liberal democracy, as their history has been dominated by crypto-fascist and authoritarian regimes, Nazi occupation, civil war and dictatorships until, finally, in 1980 the first state socialist government of Andreas Papandreou was elected establishing a republic. On 1 January 2002, Greece became a member of Europe’s Monetary Union. The population of the country is slightly over 10 million, with an additional 10 million diaspora living outside of Greece.
Andreas, being a consummate statist, increased the state bureaucracy and payroll by 300,000 during his stay in government. He also introduced strict laws of gender equality that created a new reality in the country. Greece is a contradictory welfare state with a free national daycare programme, a retirement pension programme whereby one can choose a way of life other than wage labour at the age of 53, and yet a 2008 OECD study informs us that Greeks work 2120 hours per year— 690 hours more than German workers. Also of note is a study from ECB, Eurostat 2002-2009 that the Greek public, corporate and household debt is less that of the UK and Germany. (Let us be cautious about cultural comparisons).
The heresy of the Greeks, again.
What has happened in Greece is theft on an epic, though not unfamiliar scale. In Greece, as in North America and Britain, the ordinary people have been told they must repay the debts of the rich and powerful who incurred the debts. Jobs, pensions and public services are to be slashed and burned with profiteers in charge. For the European Union and the IMF, the opportunity presents itself to ‘change the culture’ and dismantle the modest social welfare which exists, just as the IMF and the World Bank have ‘structurally adjusted’ many other countries.
Greece’s 11 per cent debt is no higher than the US. When the new state socialist prime minister George Papandreou (son of Andreas) tried to borrow on the international capital market by issuing government bonds, the speculators went bananas with joy as they drove rates higher and higher. The overall campaign emanating from the markets was effective and the blockage by US corporate rating agencies, which ‘downgraded’ Greece to a ‘junk economy’ compounded the situation. As we know the same agencies gave triple-A ratings to billions in so-called sub-prime mortgage securities and so precipitated the 2008 meltdown of market capitalism.
Greece is hated for the same reason Yugoslavia had to be physically destroyed. Many Greeks work for the public sector, and the young and the unions comprise a popular alliance that has not been pacified: the colonels’ tanks on the campus of the Polytechnic remain a political specter. Such resistance fueled by the anarchists is anathema to Europe’s states and banks and is regarded as an obstruction to German capital’s need to capture markets.
As soon as I arrived in London I was met with ‘Cheers to the Greeks’,’ The Greeks Get It’ as the glasses of beer and wine clinked to praise the resisters. The ‘junk economy’ gives us not only hope in the uprising of ordinary Greeks protesting the ‘bailout’ of an economy plunged into debt by a tax-evading corporate rich, but raises the dreaded notion of class war.
It is hardly surprising that Greece is presented as a backwash of a culture cutting corners, the heresy of this people is in the uprising of ordinary people providing an authentic hope unlike that lavished on the power elites. The Greek resistance, which took various forms— and continues— is rarely reported as such but nevertheless has created panic among the plutocracy. So much so that some top European politicians have publicly fingered the market speculators and US rating agencies.
Goldman Sashs and international bankers colluded with the political elite to falsify data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. But the Greeks know what to do, in more ways and one. Call a general strike, shut down the center of Athens; they are not afraid of articulating the issues of rich versus poor, oligarchs versus citizens. We are witnessing feudal rape. The Greeks, unlike most, get it. With a city of over 10 daily newspapers of every political tendency, the Greek of today (as in the past) is as Aristotle once noted ‘a political animal’.
But the problem is deeper still, read Dwight Macdonald’s classic essay: “The Root is Man”.