Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
On Sunday 12 February, the people of Greece, in demonstrations and street fights all over the country, expressed in a massive, collective and heroic way their anger against the terms of the new loan agreement dictated by the ‘troika’ (the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund).
Workers, youth, students filled the streets with rage, defying extreme aggression by the police, setting another example of struggle and solidarity.
Greece is becoming the test site for an extreme case of neoliberal social engineering. The terms of the new bailout package equal a carpet bombing of whatever is left of collective social rights, and represent an extreme attempt to push wage levels and the workplace situation back to the 1960s.
Terms of the bailout
Under the terms of the new agreement, there are going to be drastic changes. The minimum wage is going to be reduced by 22 per cent. For new workers under 25, the reduction will reach 32 per cent.
This reduction is also going to affect all other private sector employees covered by collective contracts and agreements. Most sectors will see wage reductions of up to 50 per cent – on top of drastic pay cuts already made.
All pensions are going to be reduced by more than 15 per cent – a reduction again coming on top of other reductions imposed earlier. Moreover, the terms of the agreement demand a new overhaul of the pension system, paving the way for more reductions and the raising of the pension age.
All forms of social spending are going to be drastically cut, including funds for hospitals and health coverage and social benefits. Hospitals are already in a critical condition thanks to earlier cuts, so this new wave of cuts is expected to lead to a dramatic deterioration.
A new wave of privatisations is demanded, including the sale of crucial infrastructure such as ports and airports, and full privatisation of public utilities. And a new wave of lay-offs of public sector employees is going to be implemented, helped by a wave of closures of schools and other public institutions.
Race to the bottom
The social cost of this transformation is going to be immense. For the first time since the second world war, large parts of Greek society are facing the danger of extreme pauperisation.
The first signs are already here: increased homelessness, soup kitchens, and a wave of people emigrating from Greece in search for employment. And things are only going to get worse as traditional forms of solidarity, mainly through family relations, can no longer cope with the situation.
It is obvious that most of these measures have little or nothing to do with dealing with Greece’s debt. Indeed, private sector wage reductions are reducing pension contributions, leading to more deficits. What is at stake is an attempt from the part of the EU-IMF-ECB troika and leading factions of the Greek bourgeoisie to violently impose social ‘regime change’ in Greece.
According to the dominant narrative, the problem with Greece is a chronic lack of export competitiveness, which demands a new approach based on cheap labour and doing away with any environmental restrictions, urban planning regulations and archeological protections that could discourage potential investors. The aim is to turn Greece into one big Special Economic Zone for investors.
What is not mentioned in this narrative, however, is not only that the social cost is going to be tremendous, but that it would lead to a hopeless ‘race to the bottom’, since there are always going to be countries, even in the close vicinity such as Bulgaria, with lower wages.
Competitiveness does not rely only on labour cost but also on productivity, and this has to do with infrastructure, knowledge, collective experience and ability – exactly what is being dramatically eroded by the current economic and social situation in Greece.
What is missing from this narrative is the crisis of the eurozone and of the whole European integration project. It is becoming obvious that the problem is the euro, a common currency in a region marked by great divergences.
The euro in a previous period functioned as a lever for capitalist restructuring through competitive pressure. At the same time it created increased imbalances, mainly to the benefit of European core countries such as Germany.
In a period of capitalist crisis, the euro only makes things worse, increasing imbalances and deteriorating the sovereign debt crisis. That is why the crisis of the eurozone is a crucial aspect of the current global capitalist crisis, and one of the main failures of neoliberalism.
At the same time, the European Union is going through a reactionary and authoritarian mutation. This is the new logic of European economic governance, as inscribed in the proposed new fiscal euro-treaty.
According to this, member states are going to include austerity measures such as balanced budgets in their national constitutions. European Union mechanisms will have the power to intervene and impose huge fines and funding cuts whenever they think that a member state is not prudent enough with its finances.
To this end the ‘expertise’ of the IMF in imposing austerity and privatisation is also used. The prevailing logic is one of limited sovereignty. Greece is a testing ground for this.
Under the terms of the troika bailout packages, there are already supervision mechanisms in place in all Greek government ministries, dictating policies in an almost neocolonial way. This is going to be the norm if the logic of this European economic governance is imposed.
Talking about a ‘democratic deficit’ is not enough. What we are dealing with is an aggressive attempt toward a post-democratic condition, with limited sovereignty and accountability and little or no room for political debate regarding economic policy, since these are to be dictated by markets through the mechanisms of EU supervision. Seeing ex-ECB central bankers such as Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos becoming prime ministers is more than symbolic.
But putting the blame only on the current configuration of the EU is also not enough. The most aggressive sectors of Greek capital (banks, construction, tourism, shipping industry, energy) are openly supporting its strategy.
Although sectors of capital have suffered from the prolonged recession, and despite the fact that the crisis has curtailed plans for a leading role in the Balkans, the dominant fractions are backing austerity and workplace despotism, doing away with all forms of workers’ rights as a means to regain profitability.
However, an increase in exports cannot possibly compensate for the shrinking of domestic demand, which can affect even dominant sectors of capital.
The Papademos government has been trying to pass the terms of this devastating austerity package by ideologically blackmailing Greek society through the threat of default and exit from the eurozone. But the question is not if Greece is going to default, but how.
The measures imposed are simply leading to some form of creditor-led default. They have already taken the steps of debt restructuring and a ‘haircut’ of the previous debt – with society taking the full cost.
That is why Greece defaulting on its own sovereign terms – that is, choosing the immediate stoppage of debt payments and of annulment of debt – is the only viable way to avoid social default. It is also necessary to immediately exit the eurozone.
Stopping debt payments and reclaiming monetary sovereignty will help public spending on immediate social needs and will help stop the erosion of the productive base by imports. This is not a nationalist choice, as some tendencies of the Greek and European left have argued, but the only way to fight the systemic violence of the current policies of the EU.
In fact it is truly internationalist, in the sense of being the first step toward dismantling the aggressive neoliberal monetary and political configuration of the EU – something which is obviously in the interest of the subaltern classes all over Europe.
Stopping debt payments and exiting the Euro are not simple technical solutions. They must be part of a broader set of necessary radical measures, which must include nationalisation of banks and critical infrastructure, capital controls and income redistribution.
But even these measures are not enough. What is needed is a radical alternative economic paradigm in a non-capitalist direction. It must be based on public ownership, new forms of democratic planning and workers’ control, alternative non-commercial distribution networks, and a collective effort toward regaining control of social productive capabilities.
Rethinking the possibility of such radical alternatives is not a simple intellectual exercise. It is also an urgent political need.
Against the current ideological blackmail and the attempt by the government, the ruling classes and the EU to present extreme austerity as the only solution, what is needed is not just to say no to austerity but to bring back confidence to the possibility of alternatives.
Hegemony, in the last instance, is about who has the ability to articulate a coherent discourse about how a country and a society is going to produce, cater for social needs, be organised and governed. The crisis of neoliberal hegemony is indeed opening up a political and ideological space for the emergence of such a counter-hegemonic alternative – but it is not going to last forever. In the absence of a positive vision the ruling classes are aiming at individualised desperation and sense of defeat as a means to maintain dominance.
Rebuilding people’s confidence in the possibility of alternatives requires the collective work for a radical programme based upon the experiences emerging on the terrain of struggle. This is one of the most urgent challenges the Greek left is facing.
Despite the fact that a coalition government of ‘national unity’ under Papademos was practically imposed in November, the political crisis is far from over. Pasok (the Socialist Party) is facing its biggest crisis ever, while the conservative New Democracy is facing increased pressure from its base not to accept the measures, and the far-right have exited the coalition government.
22 members of parliament from Pasok and 21 from New Democracy voted against the loan agreement. They were subsequently expelled from their respective parties, marking a new phase in an open political crisis.
The extreme pressures from the troika, with functionaries of the IMF such as Poul Thomsen acting as colonial governors, only makes things worse. Even though the agreement was passed through parliament, since Pasok and New Democracy had a combined majority that could compensate for dissenting parliamentarians, the political system is being stressed to its limits.
Attempts to create new political parties are under way, including an attempt toward a ‘Papademos’ party that could gather all those supporting ‘regime change,’ but they are far from gaining any momentum.
In such a conjuncture the left is getting increased support, but at the same time showing the limits of its strategy and programme.
Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) is still insisting on the fantasy of a democratic EU and refuses to bring forward demands such as the exit from the euro. The KKE (the Communist Party) despite its radical anti-capitalist and anti-EU positions, has sectarian tactics and underestimates the necessity of an immediate transitory program.
Antarsya, the anti-capitalist left formation, has played an important role in the struggles and in articulating political goals such as the annulment of debt and the exit from the euro – but it does not have the necessary access to large layers of the subaltern classes.
What is needed is a radical recomposition of the Greek left, both in the sense of the collective elaboration of a radical alternative that can create the possibility of counter-hegemony, and of a radical Left Front that could represent the emerging new subaltern unity evident in mass demonstrations and strikes, in forms of self-organisation, in networks of solidarity and in collective experiences of struggle.
Currently Greece is entering a new phase of a protracted ‘people’s war’ against the policies of the troika. The 48-hour general strike on 10 and 11 February and the mass demonstrations and street clashes on 12 February have become the new turning points in the struggle.
This people’s war is far from over. Facing the danger of an extreme historical reverse, we refuse to despair. We insist on the ‘windows of opportunity’ for social change the current situation opens. We shall fight to the end.
Panagiotis Sotiris lives on the island of Crete, Greece. This article first appeared in The Bullet, produced by Canada’s Socialist Project.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency