Greece: Thieves fall out, workers suffer

Issue 

The Greek economic crisis has an aspect of ancient tragedy (for the Greek people) mixed with a bad theatrical farce (staged on behalf of the European and the Greek capitalist elites).

The farce comes first.

Untill very recently the two establishment parties (the centre-left PASOK, currently in power, and the centre-right New Democracy — ND) preached that their economic policies had led Greece from strength to strength. The European Union (EU) condoned the bragging.

It was well known, not only in Athens but also in the EU capital Brussels, that the Greek data was tampered with at the time of Greece's introduction into the eurozone in 2001.

The recent expose about US investment bank Goldman Sachs helping the Greek government disguise part of the public debt through currency swaps is tantamount to public admission of this. (It has emerged Goldman Sachs also "helped" several other European governments.)

The EU, and its dominant powers Germany and France, knew what was going on. But they had made the political choice to incorporate weaker European economies in the eurozone.

This choice was not made out of benevolence but sheer greed. The French and German economies and their companies have profited a lot from this incorporation.

Their aid packages, about which they brag a lot, are only a small portion of the profits they have reaped from the weaker economies.

That was the first act of the farce: Greece, an EU member, sailing into prosperity.

The second act is much more bitter.

Since Greece's 2009 election, all the political and propaganda mouthpieces of the system have changed their tune.

Now, according to the new tune, it is a "national duty" of every citizen to tighten their belt and accept previously inconceivable wage cuts, the curtailment of the welfare system, worse working conditions, and a later retirement age.

Here comes the tragedy. Both foreign and Greek pundits say the Greek people have to suffer an "internal devaluation" — a very sweet term that proves capitalism's think-tanks have a colourful imagination.

This term is a mask for radical austerity: the Greek people must cut their wages and pensions.

Now the tragedy's plot is revealed. The Greek people, particularly the working class, have to pay to save Greek capitalism.

Greek economic policy is now openly put under the control of Brussels; even the pretences of national sovereignty have been dropped. In reality, the country has limited sovereignty.

Greece's capitalist economy is indeed in crisis — not only because of capitalism's global crisis, but also because of particular Greek problems.

In the beginning of the crisis, all the capitalist parties said the global crisis was simply a financial affair that would not touch Greece's economy because its financial sector was not exposed to toxic investments.

This myth crumbled quickly as the crisis proved to have its roots in the real economy. Moreover, these roots exist in the Greek economy itself.

The most serious problem is Greece's participation in European integration. When Greek capitalism — a mid-level capitalist system with its corresponding level of imperialist activities — chose to take part in this imperialist integration, it also aspired to upgrade its rank within the chain of the world's big, dominant economies.

However, soon it became clear that this resulted in the loss of Greek competitiveness against the dominant European economies.

The opening up of the Greek economy led to the dismantling of its production structure. Service industries came to dominate and multinational enterprises gained control over major parts of it.

This is not to say the Greek economy has become de-industrialised. Industry exists and some sectors are quite vibrant.

However, this does not represent a cohesive and competitive production structure.

Greek capitalism sought to counter this with its brutal imperialist economic exploitation of the other Balkan economies. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Greek firms expanded aggressively into the Balkan economies and reaped significant profits.

Thus, from the 1990s until the onset of the current crisis, Greek capitalism obtained significant profits from its external activities.

These were supplemented by profits from the increased exploitation of Greek workers. Greece is one of Europe's frontrunners in overwork, a great part of which consists of unpaid labor time.

Moreover, a big "black economy" with largely unregulated labour relations facilitated a significant increase in the rate of exploitation.

The onset of the crisis put an end to this party. The fragility and internal contradictions of Greek capitalism surfaced.

At the same time, the global crisis hit the other Balkan economies hard. This aggravated competition between foreign capitalists within these economies.

Bigger players — from the dominant EU countries and the US — elbowed Greek capitalists aside, compressing this significant economic artery.

Meanwhile, the Greek state has actively contributed to capitalist profitability through direct and indirect subsidies. It is ironic that, under an infamous law passed by a previous PASOK government, the Greek state subsidised firms to relocate to the other Balkan economies.

That meant the end of the textile industry in northern Greece as Greek capitalists took the subsidies, closed their factories, fired their workers, and relocated across the border where wages were far cheaper.

All these measures skyrocketed the public debt. But it was not only Greek capitalists that profited from this spending spree. Foreign capitalists captured a great part of the pie.

So the clamor of the big European powers about the prodigal Greeks squandering French and German money is, to say the least, hypocritical. They have already got back much more than what they paid for in aid packages all these years.

The question is, though, why all this drama about the global threat of a Greek bankruptcy? After all, not only Greece but other more advanced capitalist countries have lived with high public deficits and debts.

The US has a very similar problem: its debt is estimated to reach 90% of the gross domestic product and it is expected to take 10 years for it to return to "manageable" levels.

Greece is a small economy, whereas many other economies with similar debt-GDP ratios are far larger and constitute a far greater systemic danger.

What is really taking place is an interplay of imperialist rivalries and a jockeying of stronger imperialist nations to pass on a part of their burden to the weaker ones, as well as to the underdeveloped Third World.

It is the case of one thief (the dominant European powers) stealing from another (the Greek capitalists). The latter are passing the burden to Greek working people.

This is the most tragic part of the play.

Can the Greek people endure a further deterioration? In ancient Greek tragedies, there is usually a deus ex machina (a plot device whereby problems are solved by the introduction of a new element into the story).

The only possible deus ex machina in this play is a strong labour movement that overturns the ugly facade.

[Abridged from MRZine]

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