Reading the commentaries on #Greece in the last few weeks, it’s clear that there is a degree of genuine shock and consternation rippling through groups who have traditionally been the main cheerleaders of the EU. How is it, people are asking, that we got to this place where the sovereignty of a nation can be overridden by the elite in this way? How can it be acceptable that a small, unelected and unaccountable set of technocrats can be free to micromanage the Greek economy, right up to dictating how much bakers get paid, and even putting public assets into a private trust, like a parent putting candy out of reach of a child because they cannot be trusted with it. The degree of patronization is staggering and has led Nick Cohen to diagnose the EU as a “cruel, fanatical and stupid institution,” and Owen Jones to go so far as to argue that the left should now reject the EU as a political project.
I, too, feel a visceral revulsion at the way Greece has been treated, and I am increasingly of the opinion that the EU as an institution must be rejected. And I do mean the EU, not the Troika. The EU is ultimately the responsible party here; it invited and made space for IMF dominance; it sanctioned the establishment and operating principles of the Eurogroup as an extra-legal entity that has wielded extraordinary financial and, by short extension, legal power; and it is directly responsible for the legal structuring of the ECB, which, as George Monbiot points out, “enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics, only that it is free from democracy.”
But my reasons go beyond Greece, beyond even the EU, to the fact that this is all merely one example of a global drift away from democracy, towards a form of public/private governance whose raison d’être is capital generation. Not as a service to humanity, but as a purpose and an end point unto itself. When seen in this larger reality, what’s happened to Greece looks less like an unfortunate but contained European phenomenon and more like a vivid example of a form of governance that people the world over should be extremely wary of. In other words, Greece is a cautionary tale for all of us, that warns us how fully our governance structures have been captured by elite, private interests.
Let’s be totally clear about this: what happened in Greece is not new. It’s just new to Europe. The developing world has been subordinated to the neoliberal ideology of the IMF and World Bank, and large financial institutions and markets, for decades now. The pattern is always the same: facilitate massive amounts of debt, and then use the leverage that provides to implement fierce neoliberal policies that flip the power and purpose of national government from sovereign and often, though not always, and certainly not necessarily, democratic authorities whose primary responsibility is to their people, to service entities whose primary responsibility is to foreign financial institutors and the demands of capital to grow ad infinitum. In this reality, the welfare of populations is a secondary concern. They are there, in the most direct and real way, to serve the needs of capital and its governing elite, and as long as they do that, they receive the material benefits #capitalism can produce, but should they become bad servants, they are punished severely until they fall back into line.
This might sound to some ears like a dystopian nightmare or a conspiracy theory, but it is happening all around us, all the time. We are just not yet very well practiced, collectively, at joining the dots globally. But we are learning, and phenomena like Greece are proving to be teachable moments that help expose the bare face of this reality in all its aggressive, inhumane details.
Unless we see the Greek tragedy for what it is, unless we resist the invitation from those in power to chalk up it as an isolated incident, we will be making ourselves complicit in the grand neoliberal project.
The question that looms large in my mind is, are we, the progressive left, really aware enough of the larger trends to be ready for this fight? Can we align effectively enough to mount a full-throated opposition to the neoliberal project, and create the space for a more just, equitable and sustainable new economic paradigm — the glimpses of which we see everywhere — to rise in its place? And if not, should we reconcile ourselves to the gradual passing away of the ideal of government of, for, and by the people as power is pulled inexorably away from us?