The agreement imposed upon Greece by European leaders, after an intense campaign of economic terrorism orchestrated by the European Central Bank and the threat of the country’s possible exit from the Eurozone, highlights as never before the most monstrous face of capitalist Europe. The merciless attitude adopted by the negotiators representing the continent’s main imperialist powers and their allies has smashed the myth of a unified and pacified Europe, of a Europe of compromise and solidarity.
Deflation across the board and neocolonialism
From a strictly economic point of view, the agreement imposed on Greece is no better than the draconian plans put in place by the bonapartist governments in Europe during the 1930s in the wake of the Great Depression, whether it is the Laval Plan in France or the Brüning Plan in Weimar Germany. The latter, furthermore, only worsened economic contradictions after the stock market crash of 1929, in the aftermath of the Austrian bank Credit-Anstalt in 1931, at the source of a series of bankruptcies and payment defaults in the banking system. The outrageous level of fiscal pressure imposed by the creditors themselves as well as new budget cuts can only have deep recessive effects in Greece. The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras openly admitted this at the end of the Euro Group’s last summit.
Financially speaking, by contributing to a worsening of economic depression and despite the painful structural adjustment measures demanded, the agreement in its current form does nothing to resolve the issue of the country’s debt, which could very well continue to represent a bigger and bigger portion of the Greek GDP. Neither does the possibility to open negotiations concerning a restructuring of the country’s debt, the only aspect of the current deal presented as a “victory” obtained by Tsipras. Indeed, the agreement is going to increase the debt even more and debt rescheduling will only “smooth over” such an increase’s effects. Moreover, Athens is all but in a position of strength to negotiate a debt rescheduling in its favour.
But it is especially the $55 billion privatization fund, an idea of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, and supported by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that indicates the deeply neo-colonialist nature of the new “deal”. Tsipras and his advisors who accepted the terms of the agreement in question are perfectly aware of this. “The creditors want all of Greece’s riches, and my suite too,” declared one of Tsipras’ exhausted collaborators early in the morning on Monday. His higher-up replayed the same scene for journalists a few hours later. Moreover, this same advisor recognized that in Greece, “counting everything, banks, airports, water management, etc., there are $17 or $18 billion to privatize. To get up to $50 billion, we will have to give up all of our banks.”
As all these elements make clear, the creditors know that the Greek state will never reimburse its debt. Nonetheless, they prefer to keep a noose tight around the country’s throat as to completely crush Athens.
A reactionary “Saint Alliance” against the peoples of Europe
But the punishment inflicted on Greece is not only economic, but also political. The spectre of an eventual contagion throughout the rest of Europe in the wake of a radical left party’s victory for the first time on the Old Continent since the end of the Second World War, set in motion a real “Saint Alliance” to defend the established order. That is how a first plan to demonize Syriza, a party whose leadership, incidentally, never wanted to overthrow the European order, rapidly made concession after concession starting from the first agreement on February 20th, but claimed to do all that in the name of a more pragmatic management of the litigation opposing Greece and its creditors.
For the Troika, however, the goal could not have been clearer. It was necessary to strike hard in order to put a stop to any future vague desire to call the European order into question. Brussels and the International Monetary Fund needed to make an example out of Greece. Politically, thus, social-democratic and conservative European leaders tried to pull the rug out from any possibility of alternative management of the Greek state, and, ultimately, of Europe.
An extreme form of Thatcherism based on structural nature of the crisis and the distinguishing features of the euro
The German bourgeoisie has clearly demonstrated through its position on the “Greek question” that it will not give an inch. This attitude concerns notably the debt issue since opening up such a question could very well mean having to fully renegotiate debts throughout Europe. Berlin’s persistence corresponds with the crisis’ structural nature and the euro’s distinguishing features.
The euro is extremely limited as a worldwide reserve currency. The Eurozone does not benefit from the same “exorbitant privilege” as the dollar, the debt’s monetarization allowing it to be directly pushed onto the rest of the planet. Furthermore, the creation of a common currency without the creation of a supra-state entails the impossibility of a transfer union demanded by the countries of southern Europe who come up against German “selfishness.” Certain economists consider that such a transfer would be the equivalent of 9 to 12 % of Germany’s GDP and that could very well make the country’s economy take a turn for the worst.
Furthermore, due to the crisis’ depth, no New Deal is worth considering. This is not only due to opposition of European ruling classes, but also to the structural nature of the crisis. Incentivizing fiscal measures would not have the beneficial effects predicted by some, fundamentally because opportunities to invest and to make a profit are scarce. In this context, austerity policies, the offensive against social rights that still exist and an overall change in labour-capital relations are the only serious bets that the capitalists can make if they want to improve their leeway given the situation in which the global economy finds itself. Thus, not only is there no margin for a Keynesian stimulus policies in Europe, but the bourgeoisie does not want them at all. For the best of Thatcherist spirits, the time has come for a unremitting war against the working world.
The advances of Schäuble’s federalist project and the sharpening of tensions within Europe
By forcing Tsipras to accept this humiliating defeat, Wolfgang Schäuble’s “federal” project takes a major leap forward in a sense: creating a more centralized Eurozone around an economic project accepted by everyone, which means the exclusion of anyone who would call it into question. Berlin expressed this desire when it proposed a Greek “timeout” from the Eurozone, according to Schäuble himself. The fact that a “Grexit” has been avoided for the moment does nothing to change the meaning of this threat that continues to hang over Greece, but also any country that could possibly cast doubt on German diktats.
Once again, the fact that a “Grexit” was considered at the highest level, in Berlin, leaves open the possibility for a resurgence of speculative attacks, including against Paris. Considered from a strategic point of view, it is precisely this possibility that had pushed France to accept a monetary union all while trying to limit a second coming of German unilateralism, notably in the wake of the German bourgeoisie’s reinforcement after the country’s reunification in 1990. Independently from the French presidency’s official discourse, a “Grexit” would significantly alter the monetary union’s very raison d’être as far as Paris is concerned. Moreover, the fact that France acted as an intermediary between Germany, its allies and Greece, or the fact that Paris had to lean on the United States (or, in other terms, before US pressure on Germany, Paris aligned itself on an extra-continental power) did not go unnoticed in Berlin. This situation objectively calls into question the European Union by introducing, in an intracontinental conflict, a new player, Washington, who was absent up until now.
Only the workers can unify the peoples of Europe on a progressive basis
For those who could still have some illusions, the weekend’s dramatic events smashed the idea of a monetary union as a preparatory step to a democratic political union. It is a historic step backwards that we witnessed this weekend, as power struggles, worthy of the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th centuries, between nationalist powers have come back to centre stage.
In this sense, the Eurozone crisis has brought back the primacy of nation-states. It is their borders who have constituted for a long time an obstacle to the development of productive forces and who have led to two world wars during the past century. This is what makes us believe, as revolutionary Marxists, that European unification under the leadership of imperialist bourgeoisies was and remains perfectly utopic. Today, this hypothesis has concretely and brutally become reality.
The primary goal of the European Union, and the European Economic Community before it, whose contours had been defined by the United States in a first phase, was to find a solution to this fundamental contradiction: the opposition between this ancient relic of the past that is the nation-state and the development of the productive forces. As long as the questions of security were in the hands of NATO and the United States, the goal was to profit from economic prosperity and regulate the market by creating a bureaucracy in Brussels capable of surpassing nationalism without harming national identities. This project, which has always gone forward not without some trouble and was refocused after the imperialist reunification of Germany with a greater integration concerning the question of interest racts (the European Central Bank) and currency (creation of the euro), has today come into contradiction with the necessity to go further in other domains (fiscal and budgetary policies, competition, etc.). No country plans on voluntarily giving up more sovereignty. That is why we can safely say that with the end of prosperity, it is a whole performative discourse on the European Union’s necessity that has disappeared, allowing conflicts to crop up all over the continent once again.
The crisis has posed the question of how to redistribute wealth in Europe while the euro and the free trade zone are called in question. The struggle to know who is going to pay the bill, not only within each country but also between different European countries, is a roadblock to any attempt at cooperation among the latter who, however, had demonstrated a greater will of coordination at the crisis’ highest level in 2009.
The fact that the most powerful countries, beginning with German imperialism, could profit from the crisis by making the European Union’s weaker countries foot the bill, like in the case of Greece, which has been nearly demoted to the rank of a country under neo-colonial trusteeship, puts a certain number of unknowns on the table as to if stronger countries, like the Spanish State or Italy, not to speak of France, could let themselves be semi-colonized in such a manner without resistance. All these countries have up until now let German imperialism advance and now find themselves in a position of weakness opposite Berlin. This could very well be the breeding ground upon which the cancer of nationalism is reborn. Certainly, the nationalist and chauvinist revival is only starting, but the process of accumulating bitterness and hate has begun, pointing to the worst if the darkest pages of European history were to be reopened.
Only the working world can put a stop to this dynamic. But, so that the exploited may advance in this direction, the construction of revolutionary workers’ parties in Europe is more necessary than ever; clearly delimited parties that want to smash capitalist Europe, unlike neo-reformist parties like Syriza for who the illusion that the European Union and the Eurozone can be reformed is at the root of the present catastrophe. An alternative, working-class orientation capable of defending a clear perspective and a clear program before the crisis of European capitalism is urgently needed. A programme allowing not only to conquer the unity of our class against xenophobia that divides the workers between “nationals” and immigrants, but also to convince other social sectors, such as the small-time artisans, small business owners and small savers, to join the struggle. The latter, in their despair provoked by the jolts of crisis, could very well become the social basis of the most reactionary political tendencies if the workers do not win them over.
The program to be defended would have as its central axe the watchword of the Socialist United States of Europe. This is the only progressive perspective before the bourgeois plans on the European Union’s future currently being discussed: the first advocating for a strengthening of European institutions; the second, taking note of a certain failure in this sense, considering the creation of a two-tiered European Union with a hard core formed around Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and the other northern countries, and a weaker Mediterranean core (which is the plan formulated by the advocates of the most unilateral options). In front of these two plans who, by different paths, do nothing more than reinforce nationalist tendencies, the Socialist United States of Europe are the only progressive alternative.