Left DebateOpinion

Lessons from Greece: Austerity is Austerity

… argues Gerry Grainger.

The Greek referendum seems like a distant memory. The SYRIZA party which campaigned for a “no” vote and spoke of “red lines” which could not be crossed, re-tabled the same austerity terms within a week of these being rejected.

Recent developments in Greece have further illustrated the EU as a union of capital. Hostility to democracy, sustained and relentless attacks on social and economic conditions and workers’ rights, the promotion of privatisation, the promulgation of “undistorted competition in the market”, the downgrading of health, education and social security systems, the growth in militarism, the attack on social and environmental regulation, the impoverishment of working people, the increased power of the monopolies as evidenced by the push for the TTIP and the development of stratagems for the exploitation of the developing world are integral to the agenda of the European Union and its member states.

The interventions in the Greek debate of the Irish government, which has itself accepted the overarching political and economic framework forced on Ireland by the EU/IMF/ECB to the detriment of the Irish working class, reflect a concerted attempt across Europe to bully and intimidate the people of Greece.

While the actions of the EU-IMF-ECB must be condemed, it must also be recognised that there are political forces in every country willing and eager to do the bidding of capital and to capitulate to its demands. The capitalist class adjusts its tactics and reorganises its alliances in the struggle for the preservation of its power and interests.

From early on, the current SYRIZA-led Greek government mounted a charm offensive with the international markets and media to reassure them that it offered no threat. It declared that Greece would maintain its obligations to NATO, promised “fiscally balanced measures”, adherence to Eurozone targets and assured Israel that Greece’s co-operation would continue.

Prior to the referendum, the Greek Government called on the people to reject the Memorandum of the EU-IMF-ECB although it had already accepted 95% of the proposal. It had abandoned calls for total repudiation of the debt, reassured the EU that it would remain in the Eurozone and had failed to take measures to protect collective bargaining and basic rights.

Since the referendum SYRIZA has adopted a comprehensive programme for austerity encompassing an open attack on the living standards of workers, pensioners, farmers and the poor. It commits itself to increased privatisation and the sale of vital public assets. This programme has the support of the right-wing New Democracy and the old social-democratic PASOK. It represents a further effort to bleed the working people of Greece dry by transferring wealth from Greek workers to pay for the capitalist crisis and will lead to the total impoverishment of the Greek people.

We must support the struggle of Greek workers against the vicious attacks on their quality of life. Whether those attacks take place in the name of the Troika or of the Greek government, the results are the same – a deepening of the humanitarian crisis affecting Greek society and an increase in the power of the monopolies. Austerity is austerity, an attack on the working class, no matter who implements it.

While we must criticise the cheerleaders of the Right, we cannot ignore those who engendered false hope. There are serious lessons to be learned in Greece, Ireland and elsewhere that parties such as SYRIZA and Sinn Fein are as capable of implementing austerity as the Right. Populism and opportunism do not fundamentally threaten the capitalist system but, by obscuring its true nature, objectively support it.

Recent events occur in the context of a serious crisis within the capitalist system and the intensification of competition among the imperialist powers in Europe and worldwide. Promises to improve, regulate and better manage capitalism fail to understand the systemic nature and inevitability of economic crises, and predictably lead to capitulation. Capitalism, whatever its manifestation, is a system of exploitation which operates in the interests of the ruling class.

A totally different strategy is required. We have an opportunity to expose the economic system destroying the Greek people, harness opposition to the EU, and make a genuine stand against austerity with the working people of Europe.

In Greece the KKE and PAME offer an alternative. In Ireland and globally, socialism alone remains the real alternative to capitalism.

The author is International Secretary of the Workers’ Party.

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