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Greece: Political Football of World Politics

Why so much attention to Greece? Hypothetically, if the European Union were not involved, hardly more than an eyebrow would be raised, the indebtedness not astronomical, the gross domestic product and population of the country comparatively small as nations go, and, unlike 1947, there is no possible contest over its future by the Great Powers—no Marshall Plan doing service to destroy its internal Left forces which allegedly paved the way for Russia’s expansion westward. Yet the Cold War continues, the spirit of anticommunism (despite Russia’s modifications of socialism and inroads of capitalism) as shrill as ever, so that ideological fervency still underpins the US and West’s policies toward Russia, with Putin the evil adversary requiring a total response, lest, ultimately, America itself becomes communized. At least that is the current atmosphere, no quarter given to putative aggression, a stupendous confidence game in reality wherein the containment of Russia is a ratifying step in the globalization of a particular statement of capitalism, American-defined and –inspired, monopolism joined to market fundamentalism and activated through militarism. Uniformity of thought and practice is essential, the necessity for social organization as structured along totalitarian lines, in order to prevent any deviation from the ideological fixation on austerity as the means of achieving economic growth with least deleterious consequences to capitalism itself.

Capitalism is growing uneasy if not panicky; conformity, closing ranks, enforcing discipline, identifying and punishing the enemy, hammering out a compliant social base, keeping class the primary operative category, all follow as an integrated societal package of repression to be applied against any who stand outside acceptable ideological boundaries: blocs of nations, countries, leaders, individuals. The US is at the epicenter of the spread of one-dimensional capitalism, in which wealth trends upward, labor status and earnings downward; culture a source of fragmentation to prevent people from realizing a collective sense of themselves; military budgets to ensure inadequate spending on social needs, infrastructural improvements, and ecological protections; and the ever-pervasive inclination toward intervention and war, to satisfy market ambitions and instill pride of patriotic purpose in identifying with national power, strength-in-armaments, the occasional demonstration of overkill and sadism (the My Lai-syndrome for rallying around the flag).

But what has this to do with Greece, circa July 2015? Everything, I submit. The “cradle of democracy” is rocking the boat. Outside the EU, or if this were the pre-EU era, not many would take notice, Greece a just another banana republic, wrong hemisphere, to be subjected to gunboat diplomacy. But that is not how matters stand. Totalitarian formations demand obedience to the rules, and when such formations are hierarchical in character, the rules are elaborated and refined at each level of power and authority, in this case starting with the US, with the EU its next-in-line to execute its wishes and broader design (as will the nations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership do the same in Asia, Germany and Japan functionally the same in administering the rules of The Leader), and the EU in turn demanding the compliance of Greece with the rules, if the structural-political-ideological integrity of the formation is to be preserved. Even the slightest disturbance to a totalitarian framework, so rigidly conceived and tightly organized that it is, sends shock waves through the entire system. Up until recently, Greece did exactly that.

No longer; it has submitted, and in submitting confirmed—which is why so much pressure was brought to bear in the first place—the expectations within capitalism that uniformity presupposes differentiation not only between classes but also between nations. What is sacrifice (among the lesser and/or weaker), without hierarchy? Wealth accumulation (and presumed progress), without hierarchy? Obedience (to the rules drawn up by others, the more powerful), without hierarchy? In all three cases—attributes of austerity—Greece is on the receiving end: sacrifice; a decline in wealth accumulation, except perhaps its upper groups, but decline certainly in relation to top-tier EU nations; obedience, servile acceptance, the result of an institutional convergence of pressure. To have resisted the troika and stood tall, is deemed an ideological crime. Creditors want their pound of flesh, whether here as governments or individuals, but neither one is as exorcised by financial liability as both are by rules-breaking, i.e., defying/subverting capitalist principles. Debt-reduction is a no-no, a shattering of the social compact of capitalism, whereas extending repayment time without penalty and reduction of interest rates, both advanced by Lagarde of IMF and thus far grudgingly considered by Merkel and Schauble of Germany, are okay because principle is not compromised.

We see, then, what I might term a massive reaction-formation, a psychopathology of reliance on rules, to the degree that it provides evidence of capitalism having become its own reification in ideological form, a system so inflexible, determined in its moral goodness and superiority, ideologized, that it can no longer figure in Smithian self-interested ways or other shibboleths, leaving only the naked quest for profit, punitive demands for conformity, and the use of force to implement the foregoing. Greece is now termed, I guess, an outlier. The bad news is that it has joined the respectable, to the detriment of its own people. And, regrettably, to the detriment of the world. For until now it had thrown a monkey-wrench into the synchronicity of American power, which was present (to use Acheson’s title—to a very different end) at the creation, of the EU, and before that, NATO, the two as arms of the hydraheaded US global outreach, initiating a sequence of events that for the moment comes to a rest in the spotlight on Greece. And to mention briefly, this chain of authority from Washington to Berlin to Athens via the path through Brussels is one of several decisive moves in the American-directed containment, isolation, and sought-for dismemberment of Russia, China next in the bombsight, for which austerity is a convenient cover in homogenizing and expanding world capitalism.

New York Times reporter Andrew Higgins’s article, “Personalities Clashing Over How to Handle New Greek Bailout,” (July 23), places emphasis on how the critics of Greece, notably Germany, remain insistent, even recognizing the difficulties in the way of full debt repayment, on the honoring of the obligation. On one side we see: “To many Greeks, the debt the country has amassed is the evil fruit of austerity policies, imposed from the outside, that asphyxiated its economy and trampled on its sovereignty.” (By his word-choice, we can guess where he stands.) On the other side, in stately prose, we see: “Then there is Germany, Greece’s largest single creditor, which treats Greece’s debts as a sacrosanct commitment that must be paid as a matter of law and of principle.” He, however, makes an interesting point as to why “the standoff in the nature of Greek debt.” If one looks at past international negotiations, e.g., “those over money owed by Latin American countries during the region’s debt crisis in the 1980s,” one finds that “the creditors were mostly foreign banks and other investors.” But now, with Greece, the “government’s debt is held mostly by other governments and government-backed institutions like the I.M.F.” Perhaps in this case, rather than the earlier bilateral loan packages, this is a harder nut to crack, institutional stonewalling which, as is happening, Tsipras and Syriza finally chose not to fight.

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

The EU-ECB-IMF phalanx (Troika) has Greece over a barrel. Tsipras caved too soon, a tougher response possibly could have resulted in both debt reduction and, on timing, some relief sooner than if the Greek Parliament had first to make legislative changes. As it is, Greece is the sacrificial lamb for wider geopolitical goals: a) making austerity integral and universal to the European economy (thus a sledgehammer in curbing social-welfare measures); and b) through tightening unity, giving support to NATO in pressing forward its confrontation with Russia.

NATO is the forbidden topic when in reality EU provides it the cover of moderation and neutrality. Too, the US is seldom factored in, when in fact it is the power behind the throne, buttressing both the EU and NATO and cementing their integration. In all of this, Greece is at the bottom of the totem pole, or if you wish, the political football to be kicked around in order to achieve the coherence and coalescence of joint-US-Troika policy with respect to economic and military objectives.

This is the paradigm for using trade as the Trojan Horse for achieving larger purposes of containment, in Europe, Russia, in Asia, with TPP, China. Market imperialism is bad enough; when the military dimension to policy making is added, we see a recipe for disaster, moving from the globalization of trade to the globalization of war.

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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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