So, we stagger on. Greece is temporarily spared its inevitable descent into a deeper ring of hell, the banks make a token contribution, the politicians pretend they think they’ve found a solution, and the ‘markets’ exhibit their usual cycle of binge and hangover, albeit in a more subdued form than that to which we have become accustomed. For Greek workers, youth, children, small firms and small farmers, nothing much has changed. They will continue to be required to pay for a crisis which is not of their making. The taxpayers of Germany, France, the Netherlands and other prosperous Eurozone countries will have to dip into their pockets too, but their money won’t do anything to alleviate rocketing poverty in Greece, Portugal or Ireland. It will instead go into the pockets of French, German and American bankers.
For the federalists, everything is going more-or-less according to plan. Though they can scarcely have planned the crisis, they have long been ready to take full advantage of it, and many have known that it was certain to come along some day. The former social democratic parties of the continents Europhile centre-‘left’, for example, are full of people who studied Marx in their youth and so know somewhere deep inside that a capitalist system without periodic financial-economic crises can exist only in a fantasy world.
Those federalists who do not inhabit such a world knew well enough that the reason why the European Economic Community was able to create an internal market in which barriers to trade were being gradually removed was because national governments retained a high degree of control over macro-economic policy, enabling them to respond to economic shocks whose impact on different national economies was highly variable. Possible responses to such variable shocks include labour mobility, but this is restricted by language and cultural factors which tend to make workers move, if at all, without their families and in a self-consciously temporary manner, as we have seen in recent years. They also included, until the 1990s, currency devaluation (or revaluation), interest rate manipulation, and the limited but nevertheless important national industrial and regional policies permitted under the pre-Maastricht Treaty of Rome.
All of that is now history, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that this was always the intention. Greece, Ireland and Portugal have shown that national sovereignty is entirely contingent on being able to pay your bills, unless, like the UK – which is in reality as deep in the brown stuff as any of them – you are ‘too big to fail’. Hit a crisis and you will be forced to go cap in hand to your masters in Frankfurt, Brussels and Berlin, even if the crisis in question was precipitated by the same neoliberal politics which these people have long promoted and, wherever possible, enforced.
The next step will likely be Eurobonds, paper issued in the name of the ECB. The significance of this would be that Greece would be able to borrow money at the same rate of interest as Germany or the Netherlands. The corollary, however, would be that the fulfilment of the federalist dream of a single economic policy imposed from above would become unavoidable. This would mean interest rates and a Euro exchange rate determined or manipulated to suit the strongest member states. It would mean limits on public spending fixed in Brussels, with at best huge pressure on national governments’ decisions as to how to spend their allowance. Those industries and enterprises which somehow remain in public ownership will be sold off under Eurodiktat. Private corporations will flood in to fill the gap left by dwindling health-, elder- and child-care, publicly-funded education and all of those essential services which we extracted from our capitalist rulers in two centuries of struggle. Fill the gap, that is, for those who can afford to pay.
What will be left to us of democracy? A few things, perhaps: freedom of speech, for example, poses little threat to the elite and enables them to keep an eye on what we’re thinking, and adjust their bullshit accordingly. We may still be allowed, through our otherwise impotent parliaments, to decide whether women who can afford to pay for them – or who can find a charity willing to do so – may have abortions, and up to what point in their pregnancy. That’s about the most important issue which I can imagine still being left under any kind of popular influence, but there may be others: the treatment of ethnic, religious, sexual and other minorities, for instance. However important these social-moral issues may be, they are of little concern to corporate capital, which can adapt quite happily to conditions in a sexist hell-hole such as Saudi Arabia or a country where women have gained a large measure of freedom and equality. Of course, if this equality involves state-imposed obligations on employers, such as paid maternity leave, that will be another matter.
Socialists – real socialists, I mean, not DSK or the British Labour Party or, for goodness’ sake, PASOK – have a big responsibility in this. People can at last see what the European Union is for, and what it is doing to us. Their likely response, however, will not be to take to the streets, red flags held aloft, or to form Councils of Workers’ and Peasants' Deputies. It will be to turn on the latest scapegoat. For Jews in the 1930s, read Muslims now. It would be profoundly distasteful to make political capital out of the violent actions of one disturbed young man in a country which isn’t even a member of the EU, let alone the Eurozone, but it is unsurprising that his hatred seems to have been aimed at Muslims and those who ‘let them in’. Of far greater significance, however, is the rise of the likes of Geert Wilders and Marie Le Pen, and the increasing disruption of what is left of European democracy by the presence of Nazis from central and eastern Europe in the EU’s only elected institution, one now mired in corruption and exposed as irrelevant to any of the aspirations of the Union’s twenty-seven peoples.
In such circumstances we must find a way of entering into a dialogue with the broader labour movement and those social forces which have the potential to form the basis of a rebellion against capitalism itself. It’s a tall order, but there is simply no other way. The highest point which could be achieved by reform of the system varies from country to country but has everywhere long passed. So, however, has the epoch in which a small party with a brilliant leader could seize a Winter Palace and find itself in power. My hope is that something will emerge from events in Athens, Madrid, or further afield in Cairo or Tunis that will form the core of a type of organisation capable of mobilising masses of people in pursuit of a humane and rational alternative to capitalism. The alternative, though much more likely, is simply unthinkable.
Steve McGiffen is Spectrezine’s editor.