Greek Crisis: The Apocalypse Now of Capitalism
“Capitalism isn’t working…”
A spectre is haunting Greece these days – the spectre of default. The government, under the strict ruling of the so-called Troika (IMF-EU-ECB), tightens more and more the austerity policies. Additional measures, including huge cut-backs in public sector, suspension of civil servants in partial pay status, rapid increase of taxation and even bigger decrease of monthly pensions, have been announced (1). The Greek working and middle class are now called to sacrifice themselves – the very future of their children – for the sake of paying back the loan sharks of Greek economy.
“The Greeks were wasteful and now they must sacrifice their living standards” say many cynics in Europe. This is a neoliberal nonsense. Let’s see some revealing statistics regarding Greeks’ “preposterously luxurious” life:
In terms of working hours per week, the Greeks are the “Champions” within the EU. They work on an average of 42 hours. Then come the Spaniards with 39 hours, the Germans with 36 and the Dutch with 31 (2).
Approximately 20% of the working class in Greece live under the so-called poverty average (3). Almost 80% of those Greeks who work in the public and private sector live with a monthly income of under 1,500 euros and 61% of them with less than 1,000 euros per month.
The lowest salaries range at 51% of Eurozone’s average, while the pensions at 55% (4).
Almost 850,000 Greek pensioners of the Organization for Agricultural Insurance (OGA), live with a monthly pension of 400 euros (5). In the whole country, 3 out of 10 retired citizens take less than 450 euros as monthly pension.
The official number of the unemployed Greeks who are registered at the Manpower Employment Organization (OAED) was 839,000 as of February 2011. From that number only 30% (appr. 280,000) of them receive the ‘unemployment benefit’ of 454 euros per month. It is estimated that approximately 32% of young Greeks up to 24 years old are unemployed.
The above facts certify one major thing: Greece’s working class had been already affected by the neoliberal policies imposed in the country after the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. Today’s crisis is just the “tip of the iceberg” in a series of austerity, fiscal tightening, privatization of social institutions and broadening of the gap between poor and rich. In Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy the working class felt the “benefits” of the free market economy and of the uncontrolled competition between monopolies.
Now, the question is the following: Who has benefited from the ongoing crisis, in Greece and the eurozone? You don’t need to have memorized the whole Marx’s Capital in order to give an answer – the benefits of the people’s “sacrifices” go to the ones who created the crisis. In simple words, the international and domestic Plutocracy (a Greek word, composed by “Plutos” and “Kratos”, actually meaning the “rule of wealth”).
Some statistical data regarding the recent profits of monopolies, banks and loan sharks are more than revealing about the situation:
By the end of 2009, the assets of the Monetary Financial Institutions (MFI) in Greece were estimated at approximately 614,000,000,000 euros (6). That means a 232% increase since 2000! At the same time, the public deficit was swelling up to 300,000,000,000 euros.
Since the eruption of the international banking crisis in 2008, the indebted Greek governments donated to the Banks a total of 106,000,000,000 euros to “protect” them from possible collapse. At the very same time, harsh austerity measures were imposed on the middle and working class with the excuse of “saving the country from default”.
Greece’s annual budget deficit for 2009 was 30,000,000,000 euros. This amount equals the construction of 777 ships ordered by Greek ship-owners on the same year (7).
According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, the deposits of a few Greek multi-millionaires in Swiss bank accounts reach 600,000,000,000 euros – double Greece’s public debt (8).
The Greek Financial and Economic Crime Unit (SDOE) estimated that ten thousand “off-shore” companies (of Greek interests) based overseas move around 500,000,000,000 euros! (9).
According to the annual budgets of the years 2009 and 2010, almost 20,000,000,000 euros were spent on military expenses.
The above data constitute a small example of how the current Capitalist system works. When the masses are sinking into recession and austerity, when young people bury their dreams in unemployment (or in monthly salaries of 400 euros), some elites – the same bourgeoisie that Marx and Engels was referring to in 1848 – are speculating and profiting.
The default of the people – not of the modern bourgeoisie – seems to be the prerequisite for the recovery of the “sick”, over-accumulated, Capitalist economy. Apparently, Greece (and, consequently, the whole of Eurozone) became the “guinea pig” of an intra-Capitalist struggle between bankers, stockbrokers, creditors, loan-sharks and neoliberal governments. As Alan Woods points out correctly “after the last crisis there was a black hole in the banks that governments have been attempting to fill by shovelling in billions of taxpayers’ money. The result has been close to zero”. As a result of that “the banks are not lending, the capitalists are not investing, the economies are stagnant, unemployment is growing, and now they are on the brink of a new slump” (10).
It becomes clear that the deep austerity and the strict monetary policies, proposed by leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Central Bank boss Jean Claude Trichet, aim at “sacrificing” the living standards of the many for the sake of a few elites. The Greeks are now called to pay not only the undoubted huge mistakes and mismanagements of their governments but also the salvation of Europe’s bourgeoisie. And the bill will be also passed to the Portuguese, the Irish and the Spanish people.
So, what’s next? The Greek government faces difficulty to meet the “targets” set by the IMF-EU-ECB Troika, Brussels start to feel the pressure of a possible Greek default and European governments tighten the belt around the people’s neck. The European Union not only was completely unprepared for such a crisis but, additionally, cannot prevent it – simply because it is the very nature of the Capitalist system that generated the crisis.
Today, most analysts in the media try to explain whether or not Greece will default, how it will happen and if the country will leave the Eurozone. It is indeed a significant issue. But the most important thing is something else: What is the future that Capitalism promises for us, the people? Isn’t it the continuous austerity? Isn’t it the exploitation of the poor from the rich? Isn’t it the broadening of the gap between the wealthy classes and the working people? Furthermore, isn’t it the ground where the political and financial elites intertwine between each other, always on the back of the masses?
The possible default of Greece and the ongoing crisis in Europe and the United States of America are nothing but another episode in a series of Capitalism’s technical recessions – from the 1792 Panic in Wall Street to the 1929 Great Depression and from Argentina’s collapse in 2001 to today’s Greek drama. Therefore, the overthrow of the current economic system is the only way to a solution for the people. That demands not only the immediate stop of the neoliberal monetary policies – not only the socialization of the means of production – but the deletion of the country’s odious debt.
Otherwise, the future of the people in Greece, in Europe, in the Third World but also in the United States is one of a modern, social, political and economic barbarism.
1.”Greece unveils more austerity measures”, Los Angeles Times, 21.9.2011.
2. Ta Nea, 16.2.2011. (Greek)
4. Ta Nea, 16.2.2010. (Greek)
5. Rizospastis, 6.1.2009. (Greek)
6. Bank of Greece, 2011.
7. Eleftherotypia 18.6.2009. (Greek)
8. Der Spiegel, 6.2.2011.
9. Ta Nea, 11.5.2009. (Greek)
10.”The Greek Crisis: Europe on the bring of a precipice”, In Defence of Marxism, 16.9.2011.