Greece: The Hard Truth of Political and Economic Austerity


Even if hope merely rises above the horizon, whereas only knowledge of the Real shifts it in solid fashion by means of practice, it is still hope alone which allows us to gain the inspiring and consoling understanding of the world to which it leads.
– Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope

Looks like Yanis Varoufaki, finance minister for Greece has resigned to placate European negotiators. New York Times has a in depth coverage on it.  Tsipras seems in a tough spot now having to negotiate between hard liners on both side along with the EU conclave.

Wandering back through some of the history I realized that the anti-austerity movement has had little traction in opposing the hard line policies of Germany and other EU member nations. Watching what’s happening in Greece I wonder where the protests are, and why people across the EU haven’t spoken to this? I see they protested against closure of banks last week in Greece, but I haven’t seen anything from searches on Google and elsewhere. But even if there was a massive protest I doubt it would change policy. It hasn’t so far, sadly.

Paul Krugman a few years back realized the fact that the political sphere has been so heavily influenced by a paper known as “Growth in a Time of Debt” which was used by the IMF and others to enforce their austerity programs based on flawed methodology has led Krugman to argue:

What the Reinhart–Rogoff affair shows is the extent to which austerity has been sold on false pretenses. For three years, the turn to austerity has been presented not as a choice but as a necessity. Economic research, austerity advocates insisted, showed that terrible things happen once debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. But “economic research” showed no such thing; a couple of economists made that assertion, while many others disagreed. Policy makers abandoned the unemployed and turned to austerity because they wanted to, not because they had to.

In many cases, austerity measures have been associated by critics with a decline in living standards and have led to popular protest.A representative example is the nation of Greece. The financial crisis—particularly the austerity package put forth by the EU and the IMF—was met with great anger by the Greek public, leading to riots and social unrest. On 27 June 2011, trade union organizations began a 48-hour labour strike in advance of a parliamentary vote on the austerity package, the first such strike since 1974. Massive demonstrations were organized throughout Greece, intended to pressure members of parliament into voting against the package. The second set of austerity measures was approved on 29 June 2011, with 155 out of 300 members of parliament voting in favor. However, one United Nations official warned that the second package of austerity measures in Greece could pose a violation of human rights.

Around 2011, the IMF started issuing guidance suggesting that austerity could be harmful when applied without regard to an economy’s underlying fundamentals. In 2013 it published a detailed analysis concluding that “if financial markets focus on the short-term behavior of the debt ratio, or if country authorities engage in repeated rounds of tightening in an effort to get the debt ratio to converge to the official target,” austerity policies could slow or reverse economic growth and inhibit full employment. Keynesian economists and commentators such as Paul Krugman have suggested that this has in fact been occurring, with austerity yielding worse results in proportion to the extent to which it has been imposed.

Another economist Economist Thomas Piketty welcomed the political reaction to austerity, saying the rise of anti-austerity parties is “good news for Europe”. According to Piketty, European countries tried to get rid of their deficits too quickly, resulting in a situation where “their citizens have suffered the consequences in the shape of austerity policies. It’s good to reduce deficits, but at a rate that’s commensurate with growth and economic recovery, but here growth has been killed off.”

Philosphers such as Slavoj Zizek argue that the economic zone of death, or the EU is DEAD:

Europe is dead—ok, but which Europe? The answer is: the post-political Europe of accommodation to the world market, the Europe which was repeatedly rejected at referendums, the Brussels technocratic-expert Europe. The Europe that presents itself as standing for cold European reason against Greek passion and corruption, for mathematics against pathetics. But, utopian as it may appear, the space is still open for another Europe: a re-politicized Europe, founded on a shared emancipatory project; the Europe that gave birth to ancient Greek democracy, to the French and October Revolutions. This is why one should avoid the temptation to react to the ongoing financial crisis with a retreat to fully sovereign nation-states, easy prey for free-floating international capital, which can play one state against the other. More than ever, the reply to every crisis should be more internationalist and universalist than the universality of global capital. (Read here)

A sense that this crisis in Greece is an acknowledgment of the permanent crisis that has been imposed on all the nations of the EU by a global economy that seeks only to extract every last ounce of money it can: after decades of the welfare state, when cutbacks were relatively limited and came with the promise that things would soon return to normal, we are now entering a period in which a kind of economic state of emergency is becoming permanent: turning into a constant, a way of life. It brings with it the threat of far more savage austerity measures, cuts in benefits, diminishing health and education services and more precarious employment. The left faces the difficult task of emphasizing that we are dealing with political economy—that there is nothing ‘natural’ in such a crisis, that the existing global economic system relies on a series of political decisions—while simultaneously being fully aware that, insofar as we remain within the capitalist system, the violation of its rules effectively causes economic breakdown, since the system obeys a pseudo-natural logic of its own. So, although we are clearly entering a new phase of enhanced exploitation, rendered easier by the conditions of the global market (outsourcing, etc.), we should also bear in mind that this is imposed by the functioning of the system itself, always on the brink of financial collapse. (ibid.)

As Gramsci once said, characterizing the epoch that began with the First World War, ‘the old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters’. Ours is the Age of Monsters and it is those that impose austerity who wear the smiley face of monsterhood and enslavement. Are we becoming enslaved in a global commons in which the economic empire of monsters reigns? We’ll we continue to abide in such a global zone of terror? Shall we turn a blind eye to the misery around us and let the reality of our lives become the zombie fodder of a corrupt system of global governance that seeks only more profit and gain at our expense? As Zizek says, we have no clear cut plan or action: “Today we do not know what we have to do, but we have to act now, because the consequence of non-action could be disastrous. We will be forced to live ‘as if we were free’. We will have to risk taking steps into the abyss, in totally inappropriate situations; we will have to reinvent aspects of the new, just to keep the machinery going and maintain what was good in the old—education, healthcare, basic social services. The task ahead of SYRIZA is not some kind of crazy radical measures, but simply, in a very pragmatic way, which will have very radical consequences, to bring rationality, to give people hope, to stabilise the situation…

Yet, there are those on the hard-line left that see Zizek’s turn toward the center as a betrayal of his earlier revolutionary projects of emancipation: see Slavoj Zizek: Apologist for the Social Democratic turn of SYRIZA

Who can doubt that if the leaders of SYRIZA were to explain all this, considering their authority and also considering the burning desire for change on the part of the masses, that a successful socialist transformation of Greece is not possible? And Zizek, instead of using his reputation to support the backsliding of the SYRIZA leadership, would do better to use his reputation to explain the genuine ideas of Marxism. He has expressed the desire to see SYRIZA not only win the elections but also to keep winning and to stay in power. The way to achieve that is to carry out a genuine socialist transformation of Greece taking power out of the hands of the bourgeoisie. Such a successful transformation would indicate the way forward for the socialist revolution in Europe and around the world.

My only issue with a hard-line stance is that it would fall back into chaos and civil-war rather than produce a supposed socialist republic. Cut off from the EU, crippled and without its own monetary currency, and with little likelihood of outside debt relief the country would not be emancipated but would rather fall further into passivity and economic turmoil. Sometimes when I read hard liner Marxists I wonder what other universe they live in? Do they just live in a utopia that forgets the rest of the world? This naïve notion that communism will rise up and be resurrected and cause some ultimate global transformation and revolutions lives in the face of a world that is not and will not be ready for such things in a long while… Ernst Bloch the believer in Hope once tried to remind hard liners of another truth:

We hear only ourselves.

For we gradually become blind to the outside world.

Whatever we shape leads back around ourselves again. It is not so much exclusively self-oriented, not so much hazy, floating, warm, dark and incorporeal as the feeling always of being simply with ourselves, simply self-aware. It is material and it is experience with alien affiliations. But we walk in the forest and feel we are or might be what the forest is dreaming. We pass between the pillars of its tree trunks, small, spiritual and invisible to ourselves, as their sound, as that which could not become forest again or external appearance of day and visibility. We do not possess it, that which all this around us—moss, curious flowers, roots, trunks and streaks of light is or signifies—because we are it itself and are standing too close to it, the spectral and still ineffable nature of consciousness or interiorisation. But the sound burns out of us, the heard note, not the sound itself or its forms. This, however, shows us our path without alien means, our historically inward path, as a fire in which not the vibrating air but we ourselves begin to quiver and to cast off our cloaks.

Maybe it’s this inner music, the music of the Greek people themselves that must be heard in the streets, in the bars, in the political arena, in the homes and courts of power. Maybe the Greek people themselves must hear their own voice beyond the EU pundits of austerity, or the Left or Right wing pundits of socialism or fascism, maybe the people should just stop and listen to the inner voices of their own conscience and begin from there to rebuild Greece one step at a time…. a music of hope! A Greek path without the alien power of austere measures and means, the historically inward path, as of a fire in which not the vibrating air but  the Greek people themselves begin to quiver and to cast off their burdens and create a better life for themselves together, a solidarity of desire beyond the pressure of austerity. The lines of escape for Greece are not by way of false hopes and dreams of either the Left or Right, but rather the inward turn toward their own history, toward the truth of their own deep and abiding awakening to the inner power of their own freedom and sense of justice: this, and this alone will hold them to their course, stay them against the threat of austerity or chaos from within, the foundations of true solidarity in working together toward a new Greece, stronger and more resilient because it believes in hope and the future of Greece. Without this sense of hope in the future the earth itself is doomed beyond recall. Only we can muster the hope and dream forward the dreams of our truth. If we don’t who will? Greece must look into the faces of their children and ask themselves: What do we want for them?

6 thoughts on “Greece: The Hard Truth of Political and Economic Austerity

  1. unfortunately people by and large seem to reach these tipping-points only when they feel like they have no choice but to say no more.
    but like with Egypt and all a swarming/swirling mass of folks against something doesn’t cohere into a cooperative effort at alternatives.
    looks like we will be getting our own tests soon enough…

    Liked by 1 person

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