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Shake Down of Global Power System

Greece’s financial crisis affects, as was intended, the structure of world power, a capitalist offensive led by the United States to eradicate Left currents in countries unified under the neoliberal banner of market fundamentalism, as the vital, necessary, and first step in the wider confrontation with Russia, China, and observable tendencies toward socialism among developing nations. Poor Greece, quite literally, bearing the weight of serving as the object lesson in not genuflecting to the “troika” which itself is America’s representative in Europe in continuing its political-structural-military global design following ever since the ending of World War II. Ukraine as stalking horse was too transparent a confrontational mode with respect to Russia, although Ukraine must be seen in tandem with Greece, one military, the other economic, as factors in shaping pressures to contain, isolate, and dismember Russia (in process, risking nuclear war–thought worth it in testing capitalist supremacy). The convoluted mindset of US and Western policy makers reveals through the decades multiple strategies, starting with Truman’s virulent anticommunism and Marshall’s more enticing politics of food, to interventions including the Korean War (as surrogate for invading China) and counterinsurgency worldwide, especially Latin America (Kennedy), down to full-scale warfare intense yet still carefully limited in scope under Clinton, Bush, and Obama. The difference now is that America, working through the EU and therefore NATO, is becoming impatient or perhaps less risk-adverse in pursuing global dominance, with, not satisfied there, attention turning to Asia in completing the hegemonic design and framework.

Right now, Greece is in the spotlight, a process of knuckling under, intended as forcible confirmation of austerity as the expected behavior of all right-thinking (in both senses) nations who wish to participate, even against their will, in the supposed benefits of global capitalism. There are strict rules to adhere to, no deviations permitted, lest, as in Greece, welfare measures are introduced favoring working people, the poor, and pensioners, rather than, as customary, upper socioeconomic groups. Austerity is class warfare carried out by other means, the legitimated violence wealth and privilege, having government sanction, practices on those less fortunate. Syriza is a throwback to an earlier (circa 1950s) socialism in that it is at a transition point, still more capitalist than socialist, finding its way under Tsipras, or rather, because of EU intransigence and retaliation, having its way found for it, and hence seemingly dangerous because foreshadowing a future in which arm-twisting on behalf of austerity will not work. An example must be set; capitalism would not have it any other way (Merkel, prototypic in this and seeking as well Germany’s undisputed economic leadership of Europe, pointing the direction), and, ever mindful of the larger stakes, incorporating the military dimension of planning into capitalist consolidation. Behind or alongside of Tsipras stands Putin, enemy of enemies—until Li of China appears in the cross-hairs.

***

Let’s go back a day or two, the deadline having passed on the bailout package (midnight, June 30) and Tsipras’s apparent capitulation—with minor changes suggested—next morning. Practically to a person, EU foreign ministers, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, said a resounding No, the deadline has passed, negotiations must start over, if at all—the if at all, dependent on the results of the referendum on Sunday (July 5), with the veiled threat, cancel the referendum in the first place! Playing hard ball like this merely underscores what Greece is up against: The above “troika,” avoiding legalisms, could have proceeded immediately to negotiations (July 1) and, based on the original terms, probably reached a settlement. Instead, it stonewalled, as though wishing for default, even for a No-vote on the original package, so as to make Greece more vulnerable, more subject to punishment, humiliated, the sought-for object lesson to keep Italy, Spain, and Portugal—all facing possible default—into line while also etching the policy of austerity into stone.

Suzanne Daley and Niki Kitsantonis’s New York Times article, “Alexis Tsipras Budges on Greece’s Debt, but Meets a Cool Response,” (July 1), despite the paper’s general bias in favor of US foreign policy and, by extension, austerity, has interesting evidence on the context of pressure being applied to Greece: “An unexpected new effort by Greece to compromise with its creditors on a bailout package prompted a cool response from most of the rest of Europe on Wednesday as efforts to find a way out of the financial crisis confronting Athens remained chaotic.” Why the cool response, when most of the conditions were met? And why “chaotic,” unless presumably that of Greece’s own doing? My suspicion, a settlement was not wanted, the troika counting on Tsipras’s original negative reaction to the terms; now, modestly, he accepts “many of the terms of a bailout package that it [Greek government] had previously rejected,” and wants only that “they are part of a broader deal to address the country’s funding needs for the next two years”—a reasonable request in light of compliance with the package. But, no, and looming in the background, anger at the scheduled referendum. Merkel, meeting with Prime Minister Renzi of Italy on Wednesday, “repeated her position that there should be no negotiations until after Greece holds its referendum,” what Tsipras later termed “blackmail” as to how the vote would go. In her own words, “’The overarching goal has always been to create a union of stability in Europe, with responsibility and corresponding rewards,’” one sees the joining of antisocialism (even when socialism, in Greece, has not been actuated) and market fundamentalism.

Pointing out that the bailout agreement’s expiration meant “Greece and its creditors would have to start over in assembling a package of aid and budget cuts,” Daley and Kitsantonis correctly, if unintentionally, note the mistrust of and animosity toward Greece because of its socialist proclivities: “Moreover, many European officials remain deeply skeptical about whether Mr. Tsipras’s leftist government would implement the more painful elements of any agreement.” Yes, these officials have reason to be skeptical because “painful elements” merely reinforce the class structure and benefit upper groups—as many Greeks are well aware. At this point, as a vice president of the European Commission made clear, “’we are now in a new situation. Now much more damage has been done and much more effort will be needed to restore the situation.’” This is hardly an invitation to succeed with negotiations, and as the reporters indicate, Greece was being blamed “for upending previous negotiations with its decision to call a referendum.” Still, Tsipras was loathe to cut Greece’s ties to the “troika,” i.e., confront austerity head-on; speaking to the Greek people on television he said “that despite European characterizations, the vote Sunday was simply about a deal on how to manage the country’s debt crisis and not a vote on whether to leave the euro as the country’s currency.” He stated, “’No does not mean a rift with Europe. But a return to Europe with principles.’” This was not possible, however accommodating, given the way austerity stacked the cards against welfare provisions.

My New York Times Comment on the Daley-Kitsantonis article, same date, follows:

Schauble [German finance minister]: “We are defending Europe.” Precisely, and for that reason I am sorry to see Tsipras cave. For what Greece signifies, as all agree, is the weakening or even break-up of unity. Unity here is not only political and economic but also military, the EU being inseparable from NATO and from US foreign-policy goals. Schauble knows what he is saying, that Greece is weakening the alliance in containing and/or confronting Russia.

The Greek default (Italy, Spain, Portugal possibly to follow, should the EU get punitive with Greece) is symptomatic of the prevailing stage in the restarted Cold War. As one who favors peace and the rejection of American-led power politics, I applaud EU intransigence because in fact it WILL weaken the alliance and allow individual members to reach their own goals free from IMF and ECB dictation.

Tsipras, show some muscle. More in the world are in your corner than you realize.

***

We turn next to Times reporter Andrew Higgins’s article, “In Greek Debt Crisis, Mixed Messages and No Progress,” (July 2), initially an attempt to be even-handed, which then fixes responsibility on the Greek government for the alleged chaos. (I say “alleged,” because much of the script is written in Brussels and Berlin.) He picks up the narrative, bewilderment, Tsipras retreating, European leaders on expiration of the offer, negotiations if at all after Sunday’s referendum. Higgins observes that “the crisis appears to simultaneously vindicate critics’ complaints that Greece’s left-wing governing party, Syriza, is flailing about with wild gambits, but also that Europe, led primarily by the German leader Angela Merkel, is obsessed with rules and procedures that have resulted in a long string of emergency meetings but no clear plan for addressing the Greek debt crisis.” The problem with that is that obsession with rules and procedures fails to say what they’re about, austerity, antisocialism, whatever comports with the ruling synthesis of a unified advance capitalism. Greece remains despite the meetings in the doghouse. And in fact, Higgins drops the other shoe: “Europe’s paralysis, deepened by the ever-shifting, in-your-face tactics of Greece’s left-wing government, has exposed a fundamental dysfunction—or, the designers would say, a deliberate muddle and ingenious safety valve—at the heart of the so-called European project, a push begun in 1957 to bring the states of Europe into ‘ever closer union.’”

The date is significant, Europe’s unification in face of presumed Russian conquest at a high point in the earlier stages of the Cold War, the reporter finding as “a deliberate muddle” the inability to reconcile a need for centralized power with the autonomy on internal affairs resting in the individual nations, thus creating a power vacuum which persists to this day. Higgins explains: “Europe is a union in which most real decision-making power, particularly on matters involving politically delicate things like money and migrants, rests with 28 national governments…. This tension has grown only more acute since the January 1999 launch of the euro, which now binds 19 nations into a single currency zone watched over by the European Central Bank but leaves budget and tax policy in the hands of each country, an arrangement that some economists believe was doomed from the start.” And not, I suspect, only economists; for Greece, left to itself, has the potential to weaken the whole edifice, to keep the EU from realizing its present drift toward centralization under German dominance, in which case, more than a “dysfunction” of political structure, it [the EU] would undermine its own alter ego, NATO, which is on the front line of confronting Russia. Either Greece conforms to the “rules and procedures,” or it must be ejected, the overriding issue being unity, whichever the outcome.

Higgins recognizes how bringing Greece into line and containing Russia dovetail, a good assessment that, even if unwitting on his part, shows the deficiency of present news coverage (on both topics): “With power so diffused by design, Germany, as the leading economic power, has often taken charge on critical policy issues. It forged a surprisingly durable European consensus around the need for sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and has pushed, and won solid support, for a tough line against Greece that many experts view as misguided.” Germany unifies what was intended as a decentralized framework; it also emerges as a powerhouse with an anti-Left agenda. The two go together, shades of the post-World War I and post-World War II settings.

Shame on Greece! The director of EuropaNova, a Paris think tank, states that the EU and Greece “’are playing two completely different games. Syriza is a revolutionary party. It wants to burn down the house of capitalism.’” He exaggerates, but it is a refreshing thought. Here the reporter provides the kiss of death: Tsipras before Greece’s January election “decorated his office in Athens with a picture of Che Guevara”—enough said, we know where responsibility lies for the (contrived) chaos. Our friend German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble, when asked about the future of the euro, says: “’We can’t allow that to be ruined by a country that doesn’t follow the rules.’” Whose rules? And to cast a wider net, the Trans-Pacific Partnership transposes the political-structural-military paradigm of hegemony from Europe to Asia. Now to be confronted is China as well. All in due course, first a satisfactory settlement of Greek nonconformity, solidifying the European base for engaging Russia, and then the (in)famous Obama pivot to the Pacific, military “assets” in conspicuous display, combat-ready, as further evidence of tightening the structure of world capitalism under American leadership.

My New York Times Comment on the Higgins article, same date, follows:

The reason for the discriminatory treatment of Greece is, of course, Syriza; for if the Tsipras government were not socialist, the remainder of the EU would be more lenient and find a way out of the current impasse. What we are witnessing is an internal version of the Cold War, Tsipras being viewed as a stand-in for Putin. Yes, what happens to Greece matters, an ejection or rejection from Europe having a self-fulfilling prophesy because Italy, Spain, and Portugal stand in the wings also bearing the scars of the austerity demiurge.

People count, or should, before balanced budgets, and the euro zone is market fundamentalism incarnate. This power play on behalf of global capitalism is ultimately going to fail; EU attitudes will harden and, because the Union is inextricably bound up with NATO (and standing behind, America and US foreign policy), one can expect intensification of tensions with Russia. Perhaps that is the goal in the first place, encouragement of the Cold War to forestall the system’s decline in face of an ascendant Russia, China, and more independent Latin America.

The EU would not take, via its treatment of Greece, this confrontational stance were it not for US backing, whose own motivation is beyond trade and commerce and has clear military purpose. Seemingly, 70 years later, we are back to Yalta once again, with no FDR to correct our fatalistic/belligerent course. Obama as Truman, Merkel as Churchill, history repeats itself.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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