Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

The current situation in Greece appears hopeless. After two European bailouts and five years of Draconian austerity measures, which have left much of Greece in tatters, the Syriza-led government has been forced to accept a third bailout and the imposition of new austerity measures, which will only continue the current depression and leave the country with no real prospects of repaying the accumulation of new debts.

If that’s not a hopeless situation, I don’t know what is.

But Slavoj Žižek [ht: db] invokes Giorgio Agamben to the effect that “thought is the courage of hopelessness.”

The true courage is not to imagine an alternative, but to accept the consequences of the fact that there is no clearly discernible alternative: the dream of an alternative is a sign of theoretical cowardice; it functions as a fetish that prevents us thinking through to the end the deadlock of our predicament. In short, the true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlights of another train approaching us from the opposite direction. There is no better example of the need for such courage than Greece today.

I think Žižek is right, although Marx may have put it even better: “You will hardly suggest that my opinion of the present is too exalted and if I do not despair about it, this is only because its desperate position fills me with hope.”

Marx (in a May 1843 letter) was responding to Arnold Ruge, who had expressed a resigned certainty that there could be no popular revolution in Germany. Marx then proceeds to demonstrate how we need to “start all over again”—by studying the philistine “lords of the world” (“lords of the world only in the sense that they fill it with their presence, as worms fill a corpse”), who wallow in “their passive and thoughtless existence.” Marx concludes with the hope that the “enemies of philistinism, i.e., all thinking and suffering people” will eventually arrive at a critical understanding of the old order, which will serve to create a fundamental rupture within existing society and usher in a new one.

The same task has to be taken up today in Greece and, even more so, Europe. Each day we learn more (e.g., thanks to Neil Irwin and others) about how Germany prevailed in the negotiations over Greece in the most recent bailout—and how the rest of Europe (from Lisbon to Latvia) accepted and reinforced the terms of the deal.

The temerity of the Greek government was to challenge the idea that “business as usual”—strict adherence to the existing rules and procedures, from bankers’ dress codes and polite public pronouncements to suggestions (by, among others, Slovenian Finance Minister Dusan Mramor and Wolfgang Schäuble) that the only way the mounting debt could be written down was for Greece to “temporarily” leave the euro zone—would solve the existing problems in Greece and the other austerity-ravaged countries in Europe.

In the end, of course, the Greeks lost. Thus, they have been forced to cobble together parliamentary votes that roll back some of the anti-austerity measures adopted by Syriza since assuming power in January, in addition to levying higher taxes and renewing the program to privatize state assets—just to fend off a liquidity crisis in the banking sector and then to enter into a new round of negotiations over the exact terms of the bailout.

The current situation does, indeed, appear hopeless.

However, in challenging the terms of the bailout—first, in supporting the “no” vote in the 5 July referendum and, then, in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s statements that his government would not implement reform measures beyond those agreed with lenders at the euro zone summit this month—the Greek government has come to represent all the “thinking and suffering people” of Europe and to expose the “passive and thoughtless existence” that characterizes the “lords of the world” who currently reign on that continent.

It is one moment in a long process that is showing the world how the current system cannot solve the problems it has created.

That, perhaps, should fill us with hope.

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It looks like the mainstream European left has fought its last battle. At last!

In supporting the economic dimensions of the European project and then administering the brutal austerity policies devised by the troika, the Socialist and Social-Democratic left has disqualified itself from anything having to do with the humanitarian aspirations, inclusive economics, and class solidarity of the socialist movement.

It’s game over.

That’s not just my view. It’s also the analysis of conservative business writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard [ht: sw]. Permit me to quote him at length:

This has been coming for a long time. We Conservatives have watched in disbelief as one Socialist party after another immolates itself on the altar of monetary union, defending a project that favours the elites – a “bankers’ ramp”, as the old Left used to call it.

We have watched our friends on the Left apologise for 1930s policies. We have seen them defend a regime of pro-cyclical fiscal cuts imposed on the whole eurozone by a handful of “Ordoliberal” reactionaries in the German finance ministry. . .

By a twist of fate, the Left has let itself become the enforcer of an economic structure that has led to levels of unemployment once unthinkable for a post-war social democratic government with its own currency and sovereign instruments. It has somehow found ways to justify a youth jobless rate still running at 42pc in Italy, 49pc in Spain and 50pc in Greece, despite mass emigration.

It has acquiesced in the Long Slump of the past six years, deeper in aggregate than the span from 1929 to 1935.

It meekly endorsed the EU Fiscal Compact, knowing that it imposes a legal requirement on eurozone states to slash their public debt by 1.5pc of GDP in France, 2pc in Spain and 3.5pc in Italy and Portugal, every year for the next two decades – a formula for near permanent depression. It outlaws Keynesian economics, and indeed classical economics. It is a doomsday construct.

This is what they agreed to, and what they have reluctantly defended, because until now they dared not question the sanctity of EMU. And so the once mighty Dutch Labour Party has been reduced to a pitiful relic. Pasok has been obliterated in Greece.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party has lost its left-wing to the rebel Podemos movement, freshly victorious in Barcelona. France’s Socialist leader, Francois Hollande, has been languishing at 24pc in the polls as the French working class defects to the Front National. . .

The Troika bail-out in 2010 was intended to save the euro and European banks at a time when there were no defences against contagion. Greece was not saved. It was sacrificed. The roots of the “Greek Spring” can be traced to this original sin, further fed by the Troika overkill that followed.

The EMU creditors never acknowledged their own guilt. They never made an honest attempt to negotiate with Syriza, even on matters of common ground. They essentially demanded that the austerity terms of the prior Memorandum be enforced to the letter – regardless of whether they made any economic sense – hiding behind Pharisaical talk of rules. . .

We all know what the game was. Germany and its allies were determined to make an example of Syriza to discourage voters in any other country from daring to buck the system.

I doubt that this will work, even on its own narrow terms. Podemos remains defiant. It has accused the EU institutions and the Spanish government of committing an “act of terrorism” in violation of the Spanish Código Penal.

It is, in any case, a double-edged strategy. Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP, said the salient message of the past five months is that no radical government can pursue sovereign policies as long as it is at the mercy of a central bank able to switch off liquidity at any time. “It is now perfectly clear that the only way out of this is to break free of monetary union,” he said.

All Souls economist Kevin O’Rourke says the next Left-wing party that rises to challenge the EMU will not be as “feckless” as Mr Tsipras, and will not bargain from a position of such abject weakness.

“The lesson that they will draw from this debacle is: negotiating with Germany is a waste of time; be willing to act unilaterally, be willing to default unilaterally, have a plan for achieving a primary surplus if you haven’t already achieved it, have a hard default and euro exit option in your back pocket, and be willing to use it at the first sign of hassle from the ECB,” he said.

That’s as precise and incisive an analysis as I’ve seen of the shambles the official left has presided over for the past five years.

It’s not about Tsipras and Syriza being traitors (as John Pilger would have it). Naive perhaps, in hoping they would be able to garner support for Greece’s cause in what passes for the European left, but not subservient captives of postmodern identity politics.

No, the fault lies with a project that has finally revealed its true colors (to make profits for a tiny minority and to hell with anything that stands in its way) and a Left that tried (and, as expected, failed) only to smooth its roughest edges. Now, that left stands amidst the ruins, proclaiming that it is the last defense against a far right that its own failure has brought into existence.

Right now, it seems, the only alternative is to finally declare the death of the euro—an extended “time out” (to borrow the phrasing of Wolfgang Schäuble’s threat to Syriza) until the day a real European project can be invented.