Over the last year Greece has rarely been out of the news across Europe. With headlines such as “Greek tragedy”, “Corruption in every corner” and “Greece’s lazy workers”, the capitalist media have painted the Greek people as first amongst the so-called P.I.G.I.’S. (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Ireland and Spain) of Europe. It's one-time international image as a sunny, friendly place has been replaced by one of greed, corruption and chaos. This is part of the ruling class campaign to blame the crisis of capitalism on the Greek people, and tells us nothing of the hardships they have to endure.
Greece is in a crisis, a crisis which most ordinary people don’t understand the causes of and are being offered little in the way of a solution. An increasing number of austerity measures have been imposed on the people, which started with the working class but has now reached and affected middle class people too. A severe cut in salaries and pensions joined with a massive increase in unemployment has caused an increasing and justifiable indignation of people, expressed by huge demonstrations, strikes and general strikes. Greece has also seen an increase in suicide rates throughout its age groups ever since the crisis exploded at the beginning of 2010.
Greece’s slow way into the crisis
People have been resentful for a long time before the crisis started affecting their lives in such a drastic way. This can be seen when you look back to 2007, when there was a great movement of students across Greece to defend their education against privatization. The similarities with last year’s demonstrations against education cuts are only apparent: both governments were getting into a financial crisis; they both attacked education first and in both cases the youth resented it fiercely. Greece, however, which by increasing its heavy dependency on the European banks, managed to avoid an escalation of the student revolt by not issuing the privatization article.
This “satisfaction” however didn’t last for long, as soon after that people started feeling the unemployment rates rising amongst the youth, making young people even more resentful. Students who had finished university were unable to find a job to start their lives as adults and were, instead, forced to live with their parents depending on their income, savings and pensions. In addition to that, a number of scandals involving the Greek government, judiciary and church were coming to the surface, making people feel the ethical degeneration of key pillars of the capitalist state. Anger grew and was finally expressed after the killing of Alexandros by a policeman in December 2008. At that time the Greek youth occupied the streets; it was a massive movement starting from Athens and affecting even the tiniest places on the Greek map. This fierce movement had slogans such as “the state was stealing our future, it’s now steal our lives as well” expressing the pressure that was building up amongst the frustrated youth. This stopped, however, very suddenly after three weeks as with no formulated demands or a strong leadership offering an alternative to unite and lead them, the movement dissipated.
Crisis Deepens: Situation Today
With this we come to the current situation, where private and public sector workers unite with the youth in a movement characterized by its size, force and social variety. As we have seen before, and in other countries as well, the workers and youth are the two most revolutionary parts of society, the first to express discontent against oppression and injustice. Deep crises, however, that have deep economic as well as sociopolitical roots affecting the masses’ lives, radically push people from all social strata to react and express their demands. But such demands can never be expressed or united unless there is a strong leadership to unify and show people the way forward.
Before he was removed the Greek Prime Minister, Papandreou, tried to act on behalf of German and French capitalism, which demanded ever more severe austerity measures. Yet at the same time he could increasingly feel the voice of the Greek people. This was highlighted on November 1st, when he called for a referendum in which the people would be asked to agree or disagree with the “salvage” package, meaning further austerity measures, which he had already agreed on with the European leaders.
This did not please the likes of Merkel, the German Chancellor, or Sarkozy, the French President, who in no way want the Greek people to have a say. After all, if Greece refuses to pay, and defaults on its loans, then it is French and German banks – the holders of much of Greek debt - who the very next day will go into crisis and be forced to go begging to the French and German people to be bailed out.
The referendum was prevented by the European leadership as it would destroy the whole arrangement that they strove to make with Greece capitalism behind the backs of the people. If a referendum had gone ahead the market would have reacted. Knowing that the Greek people cannot take further austerity and would vote against the measures, interest rates on Greek debt would have sky-rocketed and Greece would default and be pushed out of the Eurozone and into chaos.
With the threat that Europe would stop lending money to Greece leading to a default and exit from the Eurozone, they demanded the formation of a coalition government. Now we have a junta of unelected bankers leading Greece, headed by the technocrat Papademos. This shows the true nature of democracy under capitalism – a convenient charade whilst it can be afforded but ultimately subordinate to the dictatorship of the banks. So the Greek people are faced with a financial crisis affecting all aspects of their lives while having no say on who they elect to deal with such a crisis.
Yet sacrificing democracy will not stop a default. By March Greece needs the full amount promised by the European governments of 130bn Euros just to pay back maturing debts. This comes with strings attached, such as the austerity measures that are contracting the market and so aggravating the crisis. They also need private holders of Greek debt to agree to take a 50% “haircut” – i.e. forego the money owed to them. The problem is many have insured their debts and therefore it is in their interests to keep their “hair long” and force a default! We can see that in all likelihood the question of Greece defaulting is not if, but when.
Some on the Greek Left call for people to reject the European austerity plans for Greece after the slogan: “We don’t owe you anything, we won’t pay you anything”. This rejection of the bailout package on a capitalist basis would mean an instant default of the country. The idea is that people would be able to take their future in their hands and, using the country’s resources, would eventually reach a state whereby they would be in greater control of their lives. They say this programme would eventually lead to the prosperity of the working class of Greece as opposed to the capitalist monopolies of Europe. However, there is a problem arising here: Greek capitalism will need time (10-20 years according to rough estimates) and money in order to reconstruct its economic base in such a way, as its entrance into the Eurozone led to its de-industrialization, as they were outcompeted by European industry. This is a solution on a purely national basis which ignores the crushing domination of the world market. Even if Greek industry were to recover it would be faced with huge export tariffs in order to protect European industry, as many European leaders have stated. That is why the solution for Greece cannot be built solely within its national boundaries, but must be a socialist solution, which can only be based on the overthrow of capitalism and workers governments being established throughout Europe. Socialism cannot be built in one country. If the USSR, with one-sixth of the earth surface couldn’t do it, what hope would tiny Greece have!
Such a plan would require a united and strong working class leadership, something that does not exist at present. While the Greek Left combined has a majority according to present opinion polls, such is the volatility in Greek society that the situation could turn suddenly in the direction of reaction if the Left does not seize the initiative. This is not a normal period and sharp swings to the left and the right are implicit in the situation. An alliance of the left-wing of the PASOK and the PAME – the Social Democratic party and trade union fraction – and the Greek Communist Parties of the KKE and SYRIZA and their trade union fractions, should be formed, united around a programme of refusal to pay the debt and reversing the austerity measures by taking the Greek banks, monopolies and industries into public ownership under democratic workers control, organised by the trade unions. The European Central Bank-sponsored government of Papademos should be rejected in favour of a workers’ government, based around the resurrection of the popular assemblies that sprang up last Spring throughout Greece. Finally, in place of the national solutions put forward by some on the Left, an international appeal to the working class of Europe and the world should be made, calling on workers and youth to assist the Greek people by fighting capitalist austerity in their own countries. If ever a time existed for a truly international movement against capitalism, it is now, where the workers throughout Europe and the World are united in their opposition to the bankers’ solution to the crisis.
The Greek people are disappointed by the politicians “representing” them, and frustrated by the lack of a substantial alternative, and combined with the discrimination they have to put up with from the rest of the European powers, have over the past 18 months occupied the streets of every city. But how long will they be able to sustain such a movement? Greece is left with no money, no future, no respect and, very soon, no government. That’s the Greek crisis through the eyes of a Greek student.
However, the Greek youth as well as the youth around the world should not be pessimistic. For it is us, together with the workers and oppressed layers, who are going to fight to preserve our future!
Unite and Fight: We have nothing to lose but our chains. The chains put on us by the capitalists and their banks, the chains that prevent us from winning our future.