The EU & Greece: A capitalism that has persuaded the world that capitalism is the world

by | 13 Feb 2012

The behaviour of the EU states towards Greece is inexplicable in the terms in which the EU defines itself. It is, first and foremost, a failure of solidarity.

The ‘austerity package’, as the newspapers like to call it, seeks to impose on Greece terms that no people can accept. Even now the schools are running out of books. There were 40% cuts in the public health budget in 2010 – I can’t find the present figure. Greece’s EU ‘partners’ are demanding a 32% cut in the minimum wage for those under 25, a 22% cut for the over 25s – the minimum wage in Greece is around €500 per month, well below a living wage in that economy. Already unemployment for 15-24 year olds was 43.1% last April – it will have risen considerably since then. Overall unemployment has increased to over 20%. The sacking of public sector workers will add to it. The recession predicted to follow the imposition of the package will cause unbearable levels of unemployment at every level.

In addition the ‘package’ demands cuts to pensions and public service pay, wholesale privatisation of state assets – a fire-sale, since the global market is close to rock bottom – cuts to public services including health, social welfare and education. The whole to be supervised by people other than the Greeks. An entire disciplinary and punishment system.

The EU is bailing out of Greece.

When we casually use a term like ‘bail-out’, it is important to remember that it is not people who are being bailed out, or at least not the Greek people. The bail-out will not save a single Greek life. The opposite is the case. What is being ‘bailed-out’ is the global financial system, including the banks, hedge funds and pension funds of the other EU members states, and it is the Greek people who are being ordered to pay – in money, time, physical pain, hopelessness, and missed educational opportunities. The relatively neutral, even Stoic, term ‘austerity’, is a gross insult to the Greek people. This is not austerity; at best it is callousness.

On top of this callousness, we must remember that the strategy itself is nonsense. Every intelligent observer is agreed that cuts do not produce growth. The highest rate of Growth in the EU at present is in Poland where massive public investment is driving the economy. GDP is declining or barely moving among the ‘austerity’ nations, including the UK.

In essence, this crisis is a failure of the EU states to show solidarity in the face of an onslaught from the financial markets. At first glance this seems to be a very simple fight. In one corner you have nation states, which have the well-being of their citizens as their raison d’être; in the other you have global capitalism as represented by the financial markets, which has the wealth of a tiny few as its raison d’être. But the nation state has, for a considerable time, identified itself with those same markets. States have agreed to see themselves as economies rather than societies. More recently we have been led to believe that the market alone can provide everything the citizen needs and much more efficiently than the structures that the citizens normally rely on and which they have, over generations, erected as protections against the revenge of the market.

This is the triumph of capitalism, that it has persuaded the world that capitalism is the world.

It has led to the undoing of two hundred years of struggle between ordinary people and and the super-rich. Trade unions didn’t appear overnight, they were a response to exploitation. Their defeat has led to the upbiquity of precarious, and now free, labour. Workers are not protected in their workplace by capitalists, they are protected by the laws won by struggle against the capitalist. A sweatshop in China is a direct assault not just on the rights of the Chinese worker but on those of workers in, for example, the UK. Socialist internationalism and solidarity were conceived as a way of defeating that ploy. Old people do not die in the streets because charity has saved them but because two hundred years of struggle has brought us the old age pension and public health. The privatisation of those services is a return to the nineteenth century. None of these public good would have been won if people had identified with the super-rich of 1812. Now that we have been brought to such an identification, we stand to lose them all over again.

Now we see capitalism at its most triumphant. Greek police beat Greek people in order to impose the will of the banks and hedge-funds. The EU member states, including Ireland, are the middleman, the Quislings of Capital. Rather than reach out a hand of solidarity, we say, Better them than us. As if the global markets will choose to pass on Ireland once Greece has been destroyed. Solidarity is not just compassion for ones fellow man; it is also materialist self-interest. One for all and all for one. We stand or fall together. There is strength in unity.

Instead we have decided to sacrifice the Greek people to the market in the hope that our sacrifice will appease the gods of speculation. We condemn them to misery and poverty to keep Standard and Poor’s off our backs. But we have miscalculated. Firstly, the communist left currently stands at 42% in the polls, PASOK at 8%. PASOK (the leading party in government) will vanish and a combination of real left-wing parties will win the next election. They will not bend the knee and put their necks on our block.

It seems to me now that Greece will withdraw from the Euro and default on its debt. Who knows what will happen to it then, but it can hardly be much worse than what we want from them, and at least it will be something of their own choosing. The speculators will then take a little time to consider which of the other economies to bet on. Perhaps then the Irish government will regret its lack of solidarity. Whatever happens, our behaviour and that of our EU compatriots has been shameful.


  1. The analysis is correct, but the idea that the Left bloc led by the KKE will have the guts and ability to stand up to the EU is wide of the mark unfortunately. The only way to make that happen is to keep the pressure on and to step it up once (if they are allowed) to get into government.

  2. Agreed Peter. I don’t think any presently existing political party has the power to withstand the forces being unleashed on states without a sizeable helping of street action to stiffen their resolve. I note too your gloomy reference to the possibility of a further coup of whatever kind. Things may well be coming to that.

  3. A wonderfully written piece, and as a Greek it is inspiring to see that there are indeed some foreigners that seem to really understand what is going on here. Thank you for that.

    In reference to the above comment, I don’t believe a Left coalition would lack the guts to stand up to the EU. I believe in fact that they would, given the incredibly strong public opposition to the EU’s course of action. The problem is whether they can actually form a Left coalition, as historically the parties of the Left have been quite divided for various reasons. Personally, I hope they can rise above those divisions and provide an alternative outside of PASOK and ND that the people here so desperately need. And the true dilemma I think for us is that without a very drastic political change, there is absolutely no public confidence in our current leaders to be able to handle the complicated challenge of guiding our country through a default and return to the drachma.

  4. Beautiful piece, sir. The whole world needs your pen.
    Thank you very much, from Colombia – South America.

  5. Dear Mr. Wall,

    I always feel gratitude for any support we get from anywhere beyond
    our borders. You have presented things pretty well as they are. Of
    course, there were some minor inaccuracies. For instance, the problem
    isn’t schools running out of books, but schools not having books to
    begin with. And the books that do exist are of such poor quality that
    they fall apart months before the school year is out.

    However, there is one gross inaccuracy. And that is what you are implying of the
    left. Successive governments in Greece have been profligate, fostering
    a system of political clients (civil servants) and crony capitalism.
    The root cause of Greece’s current turmoil has been corruption on a
    massive scale, of which most Greeks including myself have been direct

    From 1981, when Greece was formally made a full member of
    what is now the EU, until the eve of the 2004 Olympics (another great
    scam!), Greek governments were given more cash than they could spend.
    Instead of using this money to create a wealth-generating economy,
    they squandered it through featherbedding and outright theft, much
    like Third-World governments squandering the mineral resources of
    their countries. Of course, the EU is complicit in all this because EU
    officials knew where the money was going. But they too had so much of
    it that they really didn’t care. Now this whole putrid system has

    But, and here is my point, Greece’s splintered left has no
    viable solution. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), for whom Stalin
    is a hero, are dreaming of a Soviet style proletarian utopia. Syriza,
    the so-called Euro-Communists, believe that the problem will be solved
    by rioting, burning banks, and hiring as many civil servants as
    possible. Fotis Koubelis, leader of Democratic Left (Dimokratiki
    Aristera) who is scoring high on opinion polls, is echoing policies of
    1980s-era PASOK, the same policies that culminated in the mess we’re
    in now.

    The austerity being imposed on us is not the medicine we need
    since, as you say, it is killing us. But Greece’s left has no viable
    alternatives. In order for Greece to be saved, we need to come up with
    an entirely new paradigm.


    Dimitris Siountris

  6. Thanks Dimitris. As I indicated in a response to Peter Thompson’s comment above, I too believe that no political party is really strong enough to resist the forces being applied to the nation state. It would be easy then to fall back on arguments for internationalism and international solidarity. After all capitalism is international and capitalists exhibit a high degree of international solidarity. However, the reality is played out within the nation state and most left parties have been enfeebled by their adjustment to neoliberalism. However, the examples of street action – from Tunisia to Athens and beyond – show us that the game isn’t over yet. I believe we’re living through the fall of this particular iteration of capitalism and a moment of opportunity exists that can only be exploited by the people. It is up to the people to force the hand of the parties, to radicalise the parties or replace them. Ireland is an excellent example of how not to do it. A huge wave of public anger here virtually eliminated the former ruling party and brought an unprecedented number of left wing members to parliament. The majority of those leftwing politicians however belonged to the Labour Party which has entered coalition with the Right. The result is that Labour now helps to impose the EU/IMF ‘austerity package’ here. My view is that this happened because there was no public protest, no significant street action. I’m not sure why that is the case (I have a dozen theories). So, there were no massive demonstrations to stiffen the resolve of the Labour party and it reverted to the old argument of ‘changing things from the inside’. I’m sorry if this is a rambling response. But I do feel that Greece, with a highly politicised population is in a position to force change on its left wing parties.

  7. Would you not agree that the Greeks deserve to suffer because they are guilty of lying on a grand scale and living beyond their means?

    • Ugis – No. I do not agree. Although it is interesting the similarity of this idea to the legitimating discourses of imperialism – the mission civilisatrix, etc. This may be instructive:

    • I wonder what you mean by ‘the Greeks’ and what evidence you have that the entity you intend has lied and lived beyond its means.


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