Austerity Europe v The People
In true Greek fashion, the originators of democracy will hold a referendum this weekend to determine whether or not Greece accepts the terms of the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund in the renegotiation of their national debt.
Neither side is willing to blink. The Troika want their money, while Tsipras turns his pockets inside out and insists that he can’t give them what he don’t got. Greek banks have since gone into complete meltdown, closing their doors until the outcome is known.
Tsipras himself has promised that, should the Greek people agree to the Troika’s conditions, he will step down, refusing to implement what he described as “austerity in perpetuity”.
Austerity, of course, is where the fundamental issue lies. The Troika insist that Greece must implement economically responsible cuts to spending and welfare (as if they hadn’t already) as a means to balancing the books. Much like our own Conservative government, however, the Troika overlooks the fact that countries aren’t made up of numbers figures that can be fudged, wangled or manipulated. Someone has to live these financial hardships.
The Greek crisis thus represents the Western austerity dilemma: the fetishisms of financiers versus the needs of real people – bureaucracy versus democracy, money versus morality. It is no surprise that Europe’s first distinctly anti-austerity government are being made an example of: heaven forbid they should prioritise the wellbeing of their citizens over the fiscal tyranny of neoliberal officialdom.
But making an example of Syriza is folly. The Troika are not holding the Greek government to ransom: they are holding the Greek people to ransom. Unemployment in Greece now sits at 25.6% – the highest in Europe; infant mortality, suicide and HIV have soared as healthcare becomes unaffordable to many; yet the Troika wants more.
At what point, then, does financial rationality become moral irresponsibility? We are supposed to live in the liberal Western world: proliferators of democracy, protectors of the people and defenders of human rights. But the possibility of human prosperity does not strictly constitute its reality – certainly not in a capitalist society.
Murray Bookchin, in Post-Scarcity Anarchism, argued that “lofty notions of ‘the nation’, ‘the free citizen,’ ‘of equality before the law’” simply masked the reality of the dominance of bourgeois interest. I argue that this bourgeois interest, in modern Western capitalism, has superseded basic human decency.
What we’re seeing in Greece is what Bookchin described as a “great bourgeois revolution”. Austerity Europe is a bureaucratic uprising of militant proportions, with Greece playing the role of humanitarian dissenter: the leftist oppressors of economic vanity that must be overcome.
Greece has thus become the enemy: the enemy to capitalism, the enemy to neoliberal lust, to the selfishness of right wing economics. In troubling themselves with the livelihoods of real people, the Greek government have unwittingly obfuscated the economic vanity of right wing Europe and now they’re fighting back.
We knew that the Troika and purse-string pullers across Europe would attempt to asphyxiate the Greek government and their anti-austerity agenda, but to do it so barefacedly goes only to highlight the mechanical rationality of Europe’s economic hierarchy. Greece holding a referendum, then, marks an opportunity to put power back in the hands of people.
The Greeks have one obvious advantage in these historic negotiations: democracy. Democracy is not faceless, as bureaucracy is, and nor is it dictated by numbers on a page. Democracy is driven by a million voices, but these are not the voices of statistics. These are the voices of human understanding and social awareness, of those left to deal with the realities of bureaucratic demands. These are the voices of people.