The Greek crisis and you: lessons of a political sea change

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Greece is several hours ahead of the U.S. on world clocks. But midnight will strike in Washington as surely as it does in Athens. Draconian austerity plans already begun in Greece will ripple to the U.S. And the June national election in Greece has a U.S. counterpart in November and beyond.

Working people in both countries face a plummeting standard of living, with no end in sight. Capitalist rulers rely on the usual lies to justify their class warfare. They insist that Greek workers created the crisis by living above their means. U.S. sufferers of the mortgage and foreclosure crisis can easily recognize this whopper. In reality, working people everywhere live below their means, because the wealth of banks and corporations comes from defrauding them and devaluing their labor.

Greek workers and youth are resisting the attacks. The lessons of their unfolding struggle apply directly to U.S. labor. Indeed, solidarity between the two is a key to victory on both sides of the Atlantic.

Austerity — and rebellion. The world economic crisis that began with the collapse of the U.S. housing market hit Greece hard. The government was already deep in debt because of scandalously low corporate taxes and massive business subsidies. Goldman Sachs and other banksters helped the corrupt government hide its debts, then speculated against them, driving interest rates on the loans to ruinous heights. This put Greek banks in crisis, and the government propped them up too. Now the powers that be insist on making the working class pay. The “troika” of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund renegotiated loans, at the price of deep cuts in social services, wages and pensions, and privatization of state enterprises.

Much has been slashed, but the blood suckers want more. Corporations and the wealthy thumb their noses at the notion of paying taxes.

Greek workers and youth have fought back valiantly. Labor has held 17 one and two-day general strikes just since 2009. Other strikes abound. In 2011, youth started the “struggle in the squares” encampment movement (much like Occupy Wall Street). An outraged populace surrounded parliament three times last year.

Cracking the two-party shell game. The attack on Greek workers has been a bipartisan affair by the nominally socialist PASOK and the openly conservative New Democracy Party. This is like the good cop — bad cop ploy played in the U.S. by Democrats and Republicans. In this economic crisis, Democrats move to the right, becoming nearly indistinguishable from conservatives in their social service cutbacks and support for imperial war.

Likewise, PASOK had been in power, leading the austerity drive. In Greece’s June 16 national election, PASOK took a big hit, dropping to just 12.6 percent of the vote. It is part of the European tradition of “social democratic” parties which give lip service to workers rights, but betray them by carrying out the agenda of the banks and bosses.

New Democracy (ND) is proudly pro-capitalist and pro-austerity. It narrowly won the June vote, polling 29.7 percent, due to a fierce fear campaign by the ruling class. But its position is tenuous. It needs PASOK and the even smaller Democratic Left to carry out its policies.

The anti-austerity left wing coalition party, Syriza, came in a close second, with 26.9 percent. Its dramatic rise from a blip on the radar screen to a major political force, left no doubt that Greek workers are rejecting the old parties that have run — and ruined — their lives.

But Syriza, which gained voter support by steadfastly opposing austerity, is falling short in providing the bold anti-capitalist leadership the resistance needs to win. Syriza’s contradictory program calls for nationalizing banks and privatized companies, and raising tax rates on the rich. Yet it also calls for postponing the punishing loan payments until the Greek economy “recovers.” This pushes the illusion that capitalism can recover without impoverishing workers.

What is urgently demanded is a party that will help mobilize workers and the resistance movement to fight for public ownership and democratic control of the wealth created by all. If no left party can do it, neo-Nazis wait in the wings.

The danger of fascism. In Greece, fascists are taking advantage of rising insecurity due to the crisis. The anti-immigrant and homophobic Golden Dawn party made slim, but real gains in the elections. Its thugs roamed the streets, attacking immigrants and leftists, while police supporters gave cover.

Big capitalists historically back these anti-labor bigots, unleashing them if they feel sufficiently threatened by workers’ resistance.

Anti-immigrant militias and fascists are also on the move in the U.S. They foster every backward ideology from racism to homophobia to misogyny. A leftwing alternative that mobilizes workers and defends the targeted is essential to prevent the rise of fascism.

The road ahead. In these times of world economic crisis, new perils and new opportunities abound. For the global laboring class, a favorable outcome depends on its ability to develop solidarity and anti-capitalist political independence.

Many in Greece and the U.S. are in denial, but society under capitalism is at a dead-end. It is not just having a few bad years. It is in long-term decline, with boom times getting shorter, and busts prolonged. In every country, the rulers offer nothing but increasing poverty, with underpay and overwork for some, unemployment for the rest.

Luckily, the essential truths of Marxism show the way. Workers are the overwhelming majority, and their interests are those of society as a whole. They have the power to take over private enterprises, hold the wealth collectively, and run things truly democratically. This is the only humane solution. To get there, workers need a revolutionary party that can chart the course without backing down.

Greek labor and youth are starting to break politically with the pro-capitalist parties that would lead them to ruin.

U.S. workers have farther to go to break with misleaders. They haven’t yet built mass movements that can withstand liberal lies and increasing repression. But they are resourceful and unbroken. As the crisis deepens, fighting back will bring confidence and political savvy.

So, just as the hour on Greece’s clocks will soon be the hour in the U.S., so do the current Greek political and social battles show U.S. workers what lies ahead.

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