Thursday, May 17, 2012

greece is now the cutting edge of the world

crikey | “Everything’s fine out the window … oh no, look, I can see society collapsing,” said Paul, a French-Greek journalist working in Athens. Out his window is Ermou, the wide shopping street that leads down to Syntagma Square. I’d phoned him to see what was going on, and to check the “Greece in turmoil” line that has become de rigeur in the official coverage of the crisis.

Paul didn’t need much of an invitation to take the piss out of that line. What has happened in the development of the Greek-European crisis — and the inter-connected coverage of it — has been extraordinary, but also indicative of the topsy-turvy world of capitalism, finance, and its relation to everyday life. It is a lesson worth following closely, because Greece is a harbinger of what will happen not merely in Europe, but across the world over the next decade as the vast global superbubble of neoliberalism slowly deflates.

Six months ago, Greece really was starting to fray — due to the determination of the two major parties, PASOK and New Democracy, to impose the austerity measures of the EU “memorandum” no matter how stupid or self-defeating — and the deep frustration of the public at the impasse between the political system and popular feeling.

But then, after six months of “technocratic” rule (really, EU satrapy), an election was held, and lo and behold, the hold of the major parties was broken, and new forces — Syriza, a leftist outfit, and Independent Greeks, a right-wing nationalist breakaway — managed to break through, gaining about 50 and 30 seats respectively. The vote may have scattered across several parties but the result was clear — 60% of votes went to parties that rejected the terms of the memorandum. At the same time, 80% of Greeks want to stay in the euro and the EU. They reject the old parties, but they also reject the notion that the only way to square away the debt is needless pain enacted for largely ceremonial purposes.

So, in other words, the people’s desires have entirely transformed the structure of Greek politics. Or, as it might otherwise be called, democracy. For surely, if democracy means anything, it means the capacity of a vote to up-end everything. In any real democracy, the party structure should collapse and recombine every 25-30 years or so. Large parties are, after all, coalitions of temporarily united values and interests. When the circumstances change, so should they.

That is what has happened in Greece. Rather than the shell-game of finance capitalism dictating the terms, people have made a fairly clear statement of what they want — the social-political has come to the centre of society, as it should. What the morons who constitute the ranks of financial journalism call “chaos” is really the exact opposite — it is politics, people expressing their will in a non-violent form, and then trying to negotiate an arrangement between differing manifestations of ideas and interests.

Chaos, by contrast, can be seen on the screen on every finance trader across the Western world, where stocks, shares, currencies move according to no rational basis, driven by the echo chamber of rumour. The idea that the business of everyday life should be governed by these processes rather than by the rational activity of production for use, indicates the nihilism at the heart of the market, its alliance with dead matter — numbers, money, power — rather than life.

The Greeks have rebelled against this. It looks like their rebellion will continue — with the failure of the latest attempts to form a coalition government the country is going back to the polls. Syriza, the left coalition that had taken 5% of the vote in the last election, and 17% in this, is now polling in the mid-twenties.