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Post-Senescent Stage of Advanced Capitalism; EU and Greece

Why mince words, EU-sponsored austerity, Greece its present victim, carries forward the political-ideological thrust, long in the making, of US global economic and military dominance, the inner motif of the Cold War since its inception, with Europe always complicit in America’s projection of world power. Greece today is not merely a stumbling block to EU unity, a theme widely heard in Brussels and Berlin, but an object lesson to be crushed, humiliated, forced to submit to advanced-capitalism’s rules of the game to save itself from business cycle gyrations and depression, on penalty of default, ejection from the eurozone and, ideally, the EU itself as an unreliable (aka left-leaning) partner. Were there no Cold War (difficult as that is to comprehend), no conterminous boundaries between NATO and the EU which militarizes the latter’s politics and politicizes the alliance’s inceptive militarization, no conjuring act of making Russia the voracious Leviathan gobbling territory in its march westward, then Greece would hardly be a blip on the West’s financial radar, an economy sufficiently small to be absorbed without difficulty as part of a European integrated system in America’s grand design.

But that cannot happen, the Cold War–especially now with China’s rise to power and possible linkage with Russia as fellow isolates, ripe for containment and dismemberment according to and inhering in capitalism’s push for globalization self-defined and admitting none other alternative/socialist forms—having proceeded beyond even a stage of senescence so that all that remains to validate its identity is looming confrontation and war. Here Greece is not important for itself. By its treatment we see the face of legitimacy, by the US-EU-IMF ground rules of market fundamentalism, in purging alien elements stubbornly refusing to conform, again, austerity, to the imposed paradigm of class warfare favoring elite concentration of wealth, power, and privilege (aka disconnection from the masses through eviscerating welfare in principle and the social safety net in particulars). If Greece suddenly and magically came up with funds to satisfy its creditors, there would be gloom throughout the capitalist world (creditors always have a way to secure compensation from governments, even the “haircuts” not affecting profits) because making It an ideological object lesson of what happens when ruling groups are defied trumps in moral satisfaction, as confirmation of their rightful authority, all inconveniences of a financial and/or commercial nature.

One mark of the post-senescent stage of advanced capitalism is that traditional imperialist concerns of markets, investments, raw materials ownership and extraction, while essential to the sustainability and operation of a capitalist political economy, is now taken for granted, inscribed in the DNA of militaristic intervention and the conduct of multinationals, as meantime the capitalist process becomes ideologized into a deterministic mindset unwilling to brook dissent let alone defiance on what are deemed essential: privatization, habituation of the masses to a subordinate role in the social order, and ORDER itself as the ultimate criterion of capitalist “democracy”. A free people conducted a referendum on a vital question to them, to the consternation of the political-financial world. Let’s look at some examples of European leaders’ response, the referendum thought an implicit repudiation of their leadership as well as symbol of supreme disobedience (as though children defying their parents, so far has an authoritarian mental climate settled on post-World War II’s aftermath to the present).

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I am drawing on Liz Alderman and Jack Ewing’s article, “Rift Emerges as Europe Gears Up for New Talks on Greece Bailout,” New York Times (July 7), in which “rift” remains next to nonexistent in the EU’s rush to judgment—or rather, punishment. All EU authoritative voices point, in light of Greece’s independent posture, to a pessimistic view of what can be expected in restarting new negotiations, code for obvious stonewalling until Greece is brought to its knees. The reporters observe, “The country’s financial state is growing increasingly dire.” The European Central Bank would “extend just enough of an emergency lifeline to keep [banks] from failing,” a condition freely predicted shortly. In response Tsipras replaced his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (a conciliatory effort to appease the EU governments and creditors which I believe was a serious mistake) with Euclid Tsakalotos (Oxford-trained, who handled negotiations since April) and brought all five main political parties into agreement that they “wanted any negotiation to include a discussion of relief from the country’s debt load—a key sticking point with creditors.” Their statement also included “immediate help to keep the banks afloat, quick economic aid to tackle unemployment and new bailout money to cover current debt obligations.” Even though they further gave assurances of “’credible reforms based on the fair distribution of the burden and the promotion of growth with the smallest possible recessionary impact,’” itself a statement anathema to the purposes of market fundamentalism, which mixes growth promotion with recession (for working people) and cares little for fair distribution (whether of rewards or burdens), it is evident that Tsipras and Greece were not going to play dead.

Such ingratitude! So thought especially the Germans, and as Alderman and Ewing note: “Germany, the eurozone country to which Greece owes the most money, remained resistant. A spokesman for the Finance Ministry said Berlin saw no new basis for negotiations with Athens at this point.” Merkel, to put a fine point on the matter, believed that “while Greece was still in the eurozone, it was up to Athens to determine whether the country would stay.” Valdis Dombrovskis of the European Commission said that the referendum vote “would ‘dramatically weaken’ the country’s negotiating position with creditors and made things ‘more complicated’.” Michel Sapin, France’s finance minister, declaring the vote “’‘resolves nothing,’” was all for a settlement, provided Tsipras came “forward with a proposal containing ‘serious’ terms for a new bailout package.” Wheels appear to be in motion. Monday night (July 8) Merkel and Hollande met and warned Greece to come up with acceptable proposals “to avoid a possible exit from the eurozone,” the expectation being that it would “present new debt proposals on Tuesday, when eurozone leaders are set to meet in Brussels.” Tsipras, to his credit, threw a monkey wrench into the timetable and proceedings, placing the ball in the EU’s court (seen momentarily).

My New York Times Comment on the Alderman-Ewing article, same date, follows:

ECB hinting at demanding greater collateral obviously seeks to bludgeon Greece back into accepting austerity. ECB merely expresses the wider posture of the EU and IMF. Tsipras will be rebuffed in coming negotiations, as in official statements that the results of the referendum will only make it harder on Greece.

The EU may have gone too far. If I were Tsipras’s adviser (and this will sound subversive if not traitorous to NYT readers), I would turn to Putin and Li, request necessary loans, and then join the new consortium that China has created. The EU is inseparable from NATO, together a confrontational force bringing the world closer to war. The US could not be happier, but already succeeded in turning Europe into a unified anti-Russian militarized force.

Greece unwittingly reveals the larger geopolitical dynamics involved in the current financial crisis: a bifurcated world structure designed to reduce the power of Russia and China and impose the framework of market fundamentalism on all comers, including developing nations. What is happening in Brussels and Berlin must be seen in tandem with the Trans Pacific Partnership and Obama’s Pivot, culmination of the decades-old Cold War with the militarization of finance and trade signifying US domination of the global system.

James Kanter’s NYT article, “Greece Said to Delay Offering New Plan on Debt,” which followed the one preceding, presents more negative voices—angered by the delay–from on high. No proposals yet for the eurozone finance ministers, then to be passed on by the heads of state in the evening. (There is no point in attempting to cover breaking news, my point being the good will of the remainder of the EU is not present, and that Tsipras, although he caved on Varoufakis, has not walked humbly into the lion’s den.) Next to the Germans, the most belligerent voice on Greece seems to be Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch head of the finance-ministers group, who claimed “the onus was on Athens to offer something new and specific,” presumably starting with reductions on government pensions and the creation of a more healthy business climate via favorable taxation policies. Kanter, using the phrase “friendly skepticism” to describe the views of Jean-Claude Juncker and other leaders, on whether Greece will offer the necessary concessions, makes light of the hard line being taken, particularly as he writes that “some of the eurozone finance ministers were openly hostile to the idea of reopening negotiations.” For example, Peter Kazimir, Slovak finance minister, said that “’prolonging these debates and discussions would be detrimental to Greece and to the eurozone as a whole,’” a thinly-veiled threat to come promptly to terms. Any near-term promise of debt-relief (with others, he wants surrendering proposals before further discussion) “was a ‘red line’ and ‘absolutely impossible’.” And Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, doubting “Greece’s ability to come up with a workable plan, also rejected the suggestion of debt reduction,” claiming it violated European regulations. No new agreement, he insisted, no assistance.

This attitude, total capitulation before relief, I surmise is what Tsipras anticipated and accounts for the militancy he is able to summon. Unfortunately, nobody is talking about the giant elephant in the room, NATO, and the drain on Greece and the other EU countries required to support it. Greece, like Ukraine, is a pawn in the Cold War, both front-line states subject to the manipulation of the West in vitalizing an international capitalism beginning to gasp for air. If Greece turns to Russia for financial aid, the setback to the EU, with America and the IMF standing behind it, will be immense, giving meaning to “blowback” as not one or another intervention blowing up in our face, but capitalism itself creating the seeds of its undoing. For this reason, maybe cooler heads will prevail in the EU (my version of “friendly skepticism”) to forestall disunity as new pressures are devised to make the recalcitrant knuckle under to capitalist-defined measures of austerity, only, in the final analysis, making its demise the more certain.

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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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