Capitalism is ultimately a cruel economic system. Its dependency on the exploitation of labor both in terms of the exploitation of surplus labor and in the alienation of the laborer from work itself is indicative of that cruelty. However, in my mind, it is the eventual necessity that capitalist nations become colonizers and imperialists that results in the cruelest of capitalism’s manifestations. Brutality, subjugation, cultural destruction and war; all of these are essential elements of the imperialist stage of capitalism. This is the world we live in. This is the world the Greek public has been fighting since 2009.
Recently, Zero Books published a book by Roger Silverman titled Defiance: Greece and Europe. It is a clearheaded look at the current debt crisis faced by Greece. It is also a warning of what many other nations and peoples could face the next time a bust comes around in the constant bust and boom cycle of modern day capitalism. Precise in his analysis, Silverman mostly refrains from using numbers and charts to explain the economics of the current crisis. Instead, he provides anecdotal instances of the pain caused by decisions from the so-called troika—the European Central Bank (ECB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Union (EU)—followed by systemic explanations of how and why such instances could and have occurred. Most importantly, however, are his descriptions of the resistance to the demands of the financiers. Included in these narratives are details about the individuals, parties and organizations organizing said resistance. One point he makes clear in his discussions of the development of the crisis is that bankers want eternal debt just like weapons manufacturers want eternal war. Speaking of which, just like in the United States, there always seems to be money for weaponry in Greece. Indeed, even as Syriza cut social welfare it concluded a half billion dollar deal with Lockheed to upgrade war planes for the Greek navy.
Greece has a long history of being subjugated by outside powers. Most recently, those outside governments have included Great Britain and the United States. Under Britain, Greece was subject to a throne imposed on them from London. Under the US, that subjugation is slightly more subtle. It has included military bases, military aid, and risky loans, among other things. After World War Two, this subjugation began with the US and Britain brutally repressing the Greek resistance. For those who don’t know the story of this resistance, it was not only one of the most popular and strongest resistance forces in the war against the Nazis, it was also one of the most left in its political orientation. The result of its Marxist leanings was this: the liberal elements of the resistance ultimately teamed up with various monarchist and right wing elements and defeated the popular armed resistance with the assistance of the US and British military. Of course, the decision by Stalin’s government not to support the Greek Left helped ensure the dominance of the rightist elements. Ultimately, this would lead to a series of unstable governments and coups, including a particularly brutal reign by a junta that would be known as “The Regime of the Colonels.” This latter group was overthrown by a popular rebellion in 1974.
Defiance: Greece and Europe includes this history. Furthermore, it explains how this history helped create the current situation while simultaneously relating the current insurrectionary movements to the Greek history of popular resistance. In doing so, Silverman reminds the reader of the importance of history in the events of the present and future. Additionally, he makes the point that today’s rule by the financiers is potentially more brutal and possibly even more pervasive than that of the Colonels. Unfortunately, one gets the feeling that the possibility of overthrowing it is considerably more difficult. The latter part of the text describes the political and organizational wrangling between the groups opposed to the EU and its demands. As this narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that the street was (and is) considerably more radical than the parliament. When one considers the actions of Syriza in the wake of its electoral victories: rejecting than accepting the terms of the Troika, making military alliances with Israel, and rejecting the possibility of leaving the EU, the disparity between the street and the parliament becomes even clearer.
Silverman examine this but explains it away by telling the reader that Syriza and its allies had to compromise in order to survive to the next phase of the revolution. In stating this, he makes a comparison to the situation in 1917 Russia, writing that the Bolsheviks took a bold move because the crisis was so desperate. When they made that move, they called for international solidarity. Unfortunately, that solidarity failed to materialize on the scale necessary. Although the Greek situation is different, the analogy does have some relevance and contains some important cautions.
As we head into 2017, the world seems to be heading towards even greater uncertainty. The nationalist rejection of the EU in Britain, the uncertain meaning of the US election and future (at this writing) results, a seeming desire by western capitals and Russia for greater war in the Middle East, and various artificial bubbles created and maintained by the gamblers in the financial markets; all of these seem to point to more of the same for Greece with an ever growing likelihood that the next burst financial bubble will take down more than just those economies considered on the fringe of the central markets. This uncertainty alone is reason enough to read this book. Silverman’s writing is smooth and engaging; the section of the book telling the history of the Greek resistance and the overthrow of the Colonels is especially so. That it is also a useful history of modern Greece and a vital examination of an economic system built on busts and booms that reveal themselves in the suffering of the common people and the extravagance of the wealthy makes reading it even more worthwhile.