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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

Crisis in Greece: Capitalism on Trial

Sunday 29 December 2013, by Apratim Mukarji


The crisis in Greece, which began five years ago with its economy collapsing, is now reaching a stage where the spectre of a civil war is no longer a patently preposterous idea. In fact, as the political battle between neo-fascists and anti-fascists in the country grows fiercer day by day in the backdrop of a massive unemployment rate and high inflation, some predictions speak of the availability of a six-month grace period at the most before a conflagration erupts.

During his recent brief tour of the country, this writer saw ample evidences of a very serious socio-economic-political situation in Greece with the centrist-rightist government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras clearly unable to find its moorings in the myriad crises-ridden country. The crisis is multi-dimensional; on the economic plane, it is similar to what has been happening in the developed world since 2008 with banks eating away their assets by reckless and mala fide investments and risk-taking, industry increasingly unable to protect and expand its markets as demands began to dry up, leading to uncontrollable unemployment, and governments deliberately moving away from the already shrinking social welfare measures like pensions, low-cost and free health care and inexpensive education.

Greece’s woes have, however, been multiplied by the equally complex socio-political problems. The principal problem is the fierce struggle between a rising tide of neo-fascism and the traditional anti-fascism, inherited from the pre-Second World War period. The experiences under the German occupation in the 1940s have left an indelible mark on the Greeks and continue to shape the country’s politics. At the same time, extreme Rightist thoughts culminating in neo-fascism have also crystallised into a strong political movement as in several other European countries.

In Greece’s case, however, the success of neo-fascist forces has been quite spectacular, and this factor is primarily responsible for the fierceness of the current struggle with anti-fascists. The fascist Golden Dawn party has eighteen members in the 300-member-strong Parliament and won as much as 8.8 percent of the total votes cast in the last general election. Apart from the fact that the Samaras Govern-ment has on occasions betrayed more than a sympathy for the party, its precarious position in a typically unstable coalition obliges it to be more than mindful of the negative potentialities of the fascist party.

There is yet another political element in Greece, also present in several other southern European countries, which has also contributed to the complications. It is the substantive presence of anarchists, a strange left-over from the 19th century when fighting the monarchy was the principal occupation of liberal forces Anarchists continue to be active in Greece, and public manifestations of demands for the release of various such activists from captivity are not unusual.

It is essentially this combination of the continuing economic crisis in its myriad forms and the passionate and disparate political disharmonies— accentuated by the country’s inability to help itself that in turn forces it to continue to take orders from the European Union (EU)—that highlights the crisis of capitalism in Greece. Thus, the hapless government finds itself at the mercy of a continually faltering economy, trying desperately to faithfully implement the EU-dictated measures hoping that therein lies the way to recovery while the rising popular discontent over joblessness, reduced (government employees have largely been subjected to a 25 per cent cut for eight months and thereafter to opt between pre-arranged transfers or voluntary retirements) and low salaries, vanishing pensions and accompanying privations are accentuating an increasingly volatile situation.

It is against this background that certain specific developments have come to assume ominous implications. The first and foremost of these was the assassination of prominent rapper and anti-fascist activist Pavlos Fissas on September 18. The very next day Athens woke up to feverish police patrolling by the black-clothed police zipping past neighbourhoods on fast motor-cycles, and the days since have continued to witness demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, apart of course from a revenge spate of assassinations by anti-fascists as Fissas’s assassin was soon identified as a member of the Golden Dawn party.

The uproar over Fissas’s death was so serious that the government was forced to act and arrested the Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and fifteen others, all of them MPs, against whom a trial has started. It was on November 1 that anti-fascists struck. Two men on a motorcycle approached a local office of the Golden Dawn party and fired indiscriminately at the building. Two members of the party were killed and a third member was severely wounded. The police suspected that extremist Left elements were behind the shoot-out. All this was in due course followed by strong police action against suspected anti-fascists. However, the people did not appear to have been surprised by the apparent diligence with which the police embarked upon hunting down extreme Left elements following the assassinations of Golden Dawn members.

In another manifestation of the struggle between neo-fascists and anti-fascists, the Golden Dawn has recently sought to send to prison one of the most prominent anti-fascists in the country, Savvas Michael-Matsas, who is better known internationally as a highly respected writer on philosophy and literature. The neo-fascist party’s move against Michael-Matsas, however, appears to have been welcomed by the government which is probably hoping to use this development as a useful means to bring Leftists, liberals and anti-fascists under some kind of a check.

 A major demonstration of the determination of anti-fascists in the country to effectively counter the rising might of neo-fascists occurred on November 17 at the 40th anniversary of what is popularly known as the Athens Polytechnic Uprising. It was this historic revolt by students and citizens that triggered the eventual end of the brutal military dictatorship in 1973. The impressively massive commemoration of that day forty years ago is believed to have conveyed the message that as in the past, this time too the government of the day, weighed down by the accumulated burden of a collapsed economy and highly unpopular austerity measures imposed by foreign governments for the last five years, must go.

The authorities must have been disturbed by a side-show to the commemoration of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising. A previously unknown group of Leftists, calling itself The Militant People’s Revolutionary Forces, announced in an 18-page proclamation that it “assumes responsibility for the political executions of the neo-Nazis. The armed attack-response is the starting point of the people’s campaign to send the neo-Nazi scum of (the) Golden Dawn where they belong, the dustbin of history. The revolutionary movement has to proceed with the material destruction of the infrastructure of (the) Golden Dawn and in a coordinated (fashion) attack those who belong to it.”

Commenting on the massive scale and palpably angry mood of the commemoration of the Uprising, the Guardian newspaper wrote that for a nation that had become increasingly polarised in the midst of (an) economic crisis, the event is a defining moment, hallowed in the minds of many as the catalyst of the collapse of seven years of military rule only decades after a brutal Left-Right civil war. The newspaper quoted Panos Garganas, a prominent Leftist and editor of the newspaper Workers Solidarity, as saying, “The mood this year is very similar to 1973 when there was a feeling that the junta was disintegrating and (the) people were full of expectation. After five years of worsening levels of austerity and poverty, there is a sense that things are coming to an end, and that the situation cannot continue. We give the government six months at the most.”

    Greece is thus set to stumble into 2014 on a sombre note just as neighbouring Italy continues to erupt in a rapidly spreading popular upsurge, both signalling the continuing crisis of the efficacy of unbridled capitalism.

The author, a commentator an international relations, was recently on a visit to Greece.

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