Scenes from the class struggle in Greece

The EU's rulers have probably over-played their hand by acting in such a provocative way towards Greece. By Richard Seymour.

This loan shark says, make them pay, beat them until they pay everything, but don't beat them so hard that they can't keep paying. That loan shark says, if you don't make an example of this one, the others won't respect you  Beat them to death.  And it is between these two poles that the bankers, ratings agencies, and EU leaders oscillate.

Earlier this week, Greek workers walked out on an impromptu general strike. This was a moment of acute pressure applied to the 'technocratic' regime led by Lucas Papademos, as it struggled to agree austerity measures to satisfy Eurozone leaders, thus qualifying for bailouts that would satisfy the bankers and bond markets. For a moment, it looked as if the government wouldn't reach agreement. Eventually, the deputy minister for labour resigned in protest, and a package was agreed, in which the minimum wage was cut by 22% and a further 150,000 public sector jobs were cut. 

Achieving this was a fraught affair, but it hardly concluded the matter. Strikes and protests continued. The bond markets didn't relent for a second in their punishing assault on Greek government debt, and lenders instantly conveyed their doubts. More ministers resigned, this time from the extreme right LAOS. The PASOK deputy foreign minister also departed, along with the minister for labour.  Papademos has been forced to announce a cabinet reshuffle. But so far, he and his subordinates have stuck with the EU's austerity demands loyally and doggedly, regardless of the immediate consequences. And you would have thought that the EU's finance ministers would welcome this. You would be wrong.

The Eurozone leaders reacted to the deal, to this complete capitulation signed on behalf of Greece by its unelected government, by dismissing the agreement and demanding more. The actual amount of additional cuts they demanded is fairly piddling compared to the agreed total and, you would think, hardly worth scuppering an agreement for. But the contempt conveyed by this gesture is jaw-dropping. It goes without saying that they don't care if a fifth of Greek workers, and just under half of young Greek workers, are unemployed. Knowing that the government is widely seen as a slave of external powers, European bankers, EU leaders, the ECB, and the IMF, they demanded further prostration from the Greek government and ruling class.  Knowing that the struggle against cuts in Greece is now suffused in the popular imagination with the national resistance to Mussolini's invading forces beginning in 1940, they opted to underline the sense of national humiliation. Knowing that the left-of-PASOK parties could win any election called in the near future, they demanded the bourgeois parties add petrol to their own immolation. Knowing that there is a volatile, violent mood, that the tempo of working class struggle is escalating, that strikes would continue over the weekend when the package is put to a vote, that more defections are on their way, and that the government may not survive for long, they smacked it down for following orders. Knowing, aside from anything else, that the police federation is angrily claiming that it is not willing to keep a lid on popular anger, and that the head of the civil servants union is predicting a "social uprising", they've raised their two fingers and said “Bring it on.”

Of course, as I said, this wasn't necessarily a good idea on their terms. The demand for more cuts has been like the proverbial straw, provoking aghast outrage from people who had otherwise signed up to the austerity agenda. The government is falling to pieces. The Torygraph thinks the EU is trying to drive Greece out of the Eurozone. No. The government will probably have enough supporters to force the deal through parliament, with the participation of the two major parties*.  What the EU leaders stated very clearly when they rebuffed Papademos was that they expected Greece to comply, that in the future its treasury and ministerial budgets would be overseen by the EU, that the sell-off of assets would be accelerated, and that there would be renewed drive to enforce tax collection from people who cannot afford to pay in order to facilitate the ongoing transfer of wealth to the bankers.  What's happening, I suspect, is that the EU is keeping the screws turning until the very last minute, until they know that the Greek government will give just about anything to avoid a 'disorderly default'. Yes, they've just made things harder for the government, and the class, that they expect to impose this on Greece. But you have to understand it from their perspective. Greece, so they keep telling anyone who will listen, caused this crisis. It could bring down the Eurozone. They are very unhappy with the Greeks. And so, unsurprisingly, they want the Greek ruling class to suffer a bit for its continued membership of the EU. Meanwhile, Greece's neoliberal 'technocrats' insist on staying the course - yes, things are hard, says the arch-privatiser and former finance minister Stefanos Manos, but we need to do this, and in fact we need to do even more. People just don't get it, but they must be made to.  This has been the dispensation in Greece, to greater or lesser degrees, since it belatedly embarked on its neoliberal turn in the 1990s.

Even so, the EU's rulers have probably over-played their hand by acting in such a provocative way. The disintegration of the government, the warning noises from the police, the further shift to the left, and the signs of industrial escalation, are indicative that they may have gone too far. Amid the second general strike in a single week, both called on very short notice and with considerable success, the chances of this government surviving to implement any package it can agree are shrinking fast.

[Note: the Greek parliament last night approved the deal 199-74.]

Copyleft of Lenin's Tomb

Image top: odysseagr.