Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Class Struggles in Southern Europe (2)

Euro-area finance ministers approved the payout of 49.1 billion euros ($64 billion) of loans through March and committed to “additional measures” in case Greece’s debt reduction veers off track.
While another cut in bailout-loan rates and an increase in infrastructure funding would top the list of extra measures, the policy makers hinted that outright debt relief -- still a taboo topic in creditor countries led by Germany -- would be on the table as well.

The failure of the bond buy out target was waived very quickly, you might say they stopped short at appearing to bend over backwards to lend Greece more money, but that's all. And they still argue that Syriza (the radical left Greek party that advocates strong negotiation) would not have (had) any leverage!

From, for instance, Merkel's recent position on Greece as well as banking supervision, you can see that she does not act chiefly for her own nation as a whole but also and predominantly for her class as a cosmopolitan European entity. This is why Greece gets the bail out despite failing (and once again defaulting) to meet the criteria of the bond buy back, and why Merkel must sell the idea that Germany will not mutualise debt to her own ordinary citizens, while making sure that this is a future possibility. Each other bourgeois leader does similar, more-or-less, and is involved in the political charade.

So what does this mean for a future Europe?

While it shows that there can be compromises between the national interests, these interests are only compromised by trading with and often away the rights and interests of the lower classes (especially in the crisis), namely the general European working class. Where their own national bourgeois interests outweigh their general interest, national interests tend to win out, but this depends on the relative national power of the competing nation too. Germany is the biggest European economic power and can therefore better defend its own national interests while also ensure its cosmopolitan elite profits from the European project too. Notwithstanding, the national interest does not always coincide with the interests of the ruling national class, which is easier to see in Greece than in Germany of course, but is also just as true in Germany.

The big problem is the reality that is the present economic crisis. The progress of the crisis has been relentless, and the politics has run kind of parallel to it in a way that is consistently only really self interested, so it uses the crisis as a means to implement measures that the European ruling classes desired anyway, it is an opportunity for it, and it takes its opportunities like any opportunist would. But in doing so it tends to ignore the reality of the crisis or give to it only a passing nod of attention. So we have two paths that, in fits and starts, are diverging. The first path is the apparent political route to financial harmonization and federalism in the Eurozone, backed up by humanist rhetorical flourishes such as the recent Nobel Prize awarded (to the EU, or to itself you might say) for 'creating peace in Europe'. As well as proving a negative this piece of ridiculous hubris is set against a reality of harsh austerity measures deriving from its neoliberal policies which have generated poverty and some extreme reactions such as the rise of fascism in Greece and extreme rightist policies in Spain.

This clash of opposites has not yet become so sharp as to be able to puncture the smug pomposity of the Eurozone apparatchiks or the club of political leaders, who only see a slow and steady progress to something ill defined that could possibly be a federal social democratic Europe, but which looks like at the moment a vehicle for the richest nations to better exploit the poor of the poorest 'peripheral' nations at the behest of their lesser endowed bourgeoisie. Yet the problem of the economic crisis is not resolved either by the austerity or the manifold agreements to unify, at some stage, Europe. In actual fact the problems are exacerbated by these, at best partial illusions under the influence of which both the club of national leaders and Euro apparatchiks can drift into the self satisfaction that they have 'acted' and so at least absolved themselves from further responsibility. That in, say, Greece people are suffering, with a lack of a social safety net, from the effects of the crisis and the failure of their policies, can be set aside as something that exists as if in another dimension which cannot impinge on theirs. Of course, the contours of this partition between the two dimensions has, as well as ideological illusions, also some real aesthetic accoutrements, the repressive state apparatus that in the end enforces the will of the state by violence, the riot cops and suchlike.

The central core of the Eurozone ideology sees itself as a hero of peaceful diplomacy and soft power (to use an appropriate phrase from Saif's LSE doctoral thesis) belonging to its humanist-humanitarian ideals, which are in fact stressed in the European Charter, but just as this document is being trampled underfoot in the rush to austerity for the workers, the reality is one of implementing by increasingly authoritarian means anti-social and anti democratic policies. It is not that the European peoples have failed to notice this disparity, they have protested vigorously as we all know; the problem is what to do about it beyond mere protest. While, say, Egyptians are strenuously trying to get a democratic government at least as democratic as exists in a few nations central to Europe, European peoples are protesting against secular democratic governments and systems that have been achieved after similar long historical struggles. These governments and their democracies still appear to be advanced; they still appear to represent the people, and to belong to the people. This is democracy, how can they attack democracy without seeming to want despotism? So protests tend to flounder on the rocks of democracy itself, and/or the question of democracy begins to loom: what is it exactly? Why are we apparently failed by this system, yet we have the vote? Have we really voted to represent us these fools who have squandered money and got into enormous debt just because we, like them, became greedy? The poor became greedy!! The people are told this is how it was, that it was their choice and so also their fault as well as the fault of democracy (and its baggage of 'entitlements', the sense of entitlement, and the dignity that goes with that) itself that the crisis led to such huge debts. There is little room left here for a critique of democracy. The bourgeoisie say it is democracy or fascism, you choose one or the other, and the people do not want fascism, so it is democracy, this democracy. The question as to whether this democracy was ever truly representative is not to be discussed, it is a taboo subject. For on this assumption, that we have such a choice, rests the whole underlying bourgeois media story of ordinary folk being to blame for the crisis.

It is not the end of the matter though, again because the crisis is just too big and too deep. It has its own reality that will trump the measures and the illusions both. At some future point we can expect the opposition between the reality and the rhetoric of power to become too sharp. Even if, for instance, a federal states of Europe becomes increasingly a genuine possibility, long before this can happen the crisis will be also visiting Germany, and with that the problem of sharing the debt, as federal partners, or not. Indeed this crisis is likely to be both the motivation for federalism as a solution to the crisis and at the same time the reason why its biggest apparent exponent does not want it to be the solution. In the process we can expect that the debts will be smuggled and dispersed even more onto the shoulders of the European working classes, but as the consequences of austerity approaches the core, so too will the protests that follow it. The European project may not be about to fail formally, but it has in fact failed as a form of social democracy, the ideals of a harmonious Europe have been shattered and left behind and what we face is not necessarily a de facto break up of the Eurozone but its repressive iron fist poking out of threadbare holes in the soft glove in order to hold it together. That it may or may not break up is therefore a merely academic question, European nations are not about to sail away from Europe, but in actual fact what has been lost is already the most important part of it, you might say, its heart. It will be the task of the European workers to start it beating again, even though it was mostly fictitious in the first place, only they can give real heart to the heart of Europe.

by Gary Tedman

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