The Missing Link in the Discourse on the Greek Crisis: an African Perspective

Civilisation or Barbarism

The choice between Civilisation and Barbarism, mooted by that great German humanist, Rosa Luxemburg, must resonate with muted anguish in the hearts and souls of the many Germans today. In a passionately argued antiwar leaflet called The Junius Pamphlet written from her prison cell in 1915, Luxemburg posed this stark choice not just to Germany but to the whole of Europe. A hundred years later, as I write these words on 15 July 2015, the German Parliament has voted for barbarism. That’s what I call it. Others call it ‘bail out’ for the Greeks. Go a bit deeper and you will know that it is bail out for the German banks – not for the Greeks. Go still deeper, and the conclusion is difficult to escape that Germany is colonising Greece. What it failed to do in April 1941 it has achieved in July 2015.

The tragic irony in this case is that whilst Germany might by history be judged as victim of the peace diktat imposed on it at the May 1919 Treaty of Versailles, it is today imposing with a vengeance a reverse Versailles on the small nation of Greece. A double irony is that Greece has dropped its earlier demand for Euro 276 billion as World War II reparations (as distinct from debt) from Germany while swallowing the bitter pill of a Euro 86 billion ‘bailout’. A tragedy is a tragedy; but a double tragedy must, I submit, be classified as a Greco-German farce the contradictory aspect of which only Greek Gods of antiquity might unravel.

Whilst waiting for the Greek Gods to deliver their judgement, nothing stops us from making an effort to try and understand an event that is symptomatic of our times. The first matter to clear, in my view, is that although Germany has taken the brunt of criticism from many Left-inclined civil society circles and the media, it is not merely a German or even just a European problem. It is a bigger problem; it can be understood only in terms of the evolving geopolitical dynamics and the exploitative, capitalist-imperialist system whose economic institutions of governance are the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and whose military face is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

What the Greeks have been going through over the last five years, the people of the South have been enduring for the last nearly thirty years. It goes by the name of what must by now be the ugliest word in any language – AUSTERITY.

Austerity – the ugly head of global financial governance

Let us briefly look at some of the austerity measures imposed on Greece in return for this humiliating ‘bail out’. I summarise some of the highlights:

  • The immediate effect would be to encourage banks to open and deal out money to cash-starved population, but the medium (six months) to long term effects would be disastrous for the economy and the welfare of the population.

  • Farmers would lose preferential tax treatment and fuel subsidy bankrupting especially small scale farmers.

  • The 23% increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) would be a virtual death knell for the hotels, restaurants and the tourist industry (including the islands) that generates employment and spin off benefits for many small scale enterprises.

  • Delayed retirement will increase youth unemployment, and their exodus to the rest of Europe looking for jobs.

  • Pension cuts with no social security backup would impoverish people to penury.

  • The austerity package requires a haircut of public expenditure, including wages of the public sector. Spending cuts by workers and pensioners will not only hurt them, but also the private sector and state revenue.

 

This is not all; here is more to come – with far more serious consequences.

  • The Euro 86 billion is a loan not a gift; it will be used to repay old debt (like a Ponzi scheme), and will further augment Greek debt making it absolutely impossible for Greece to pay this debt in several generations to come.

  • The European creditors want to acquire real wealth – banks, public enterprises, its agricultural land, and so on. The Destruction of the public sector and its privatisation to attract foreign direct investments (FDIs) would lead to virtual colonisation of Greece.

  • Military spending will be slashed by 100 million euros this year only to be doubled in 2016.

 

This amounts – and let us not mince words – to total capitulation of the Greece’s economy and state to the will of the Empire, which boils down to the demise of Greece as a sovereign nation state.

National, European or Global Problem?

Recall the words that got popularized with the Paris Charlie Hebdo siege in January this year, ‘Je suis Charlie’. In the UK, The Guardian denounced the siege as an ‘Assault on democracy’, and the Daily Telegraph as ‘ War on freedom’ without any discussion that what the Empire has been perpetrating in Africa for over 500 years has been exactly that – an assault on Africa’s democracy and freedom. This was a typically Eurocentric reaction. I’ll use that phrase nonetheless to say that whether you are Greek, Russian, Chinese, Argentinian or African, today we are all Greeks.

In his plea to the European Parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras argued that it was not a Greek but a European problem. The majority in European Union Parliament disagreed. It decided that it was essentially a problem for the Greeks: they created it, and they must pay the price.

I would argue that the problem is beyond Greece and beyond Europe; it is global. To understand this one has to understand the Empire and its nemesis, the struggle for national independence.

The Empire and the National Question

In the media, speaking generally, Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble was often cast, ad hominem, as the villain. When he spoke, all the other heads of state in the European Union buried their differences…. except on the question of Grexit. Schäuble advocated a temporary Grexit. That was anathema to the European leaders; on this they probably listened to Obama. A Grexit, they argued, could lead to Spanish, Portuguese or Italian exit from Eurozone. As Greece’s flamboyant former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said: the EU’s nightmare was that if Greece were to succeed that would be the end of Europe. There is some truth to this.

But the risk of Grexit was much higher than considered by Varoufakis. It was global. What was at stake was the credibility of the Euro-American Empire. The word ‘Euro-American Empire’ never once entered the lexicography of the public discourse in Europe or America – not even in the Left circles. In the otherwise brilliant piece ‘Eleven points inspired by the situation in Greece’[i], the French radical philosopher Alain Badiou does not mention ‘empire’; he preferred to call it ‘globalised capitalism’. This is a significant point. It takes an African (or the people of the global South) to understand the difference between an ‘Empire’ and ‘globalised capitalism’. The latter is only an economic segment of the Empire; the more critical – and dangerous – part is the military. You need to be an Iraqi, or Libyan or Somali to understand this properly.

The Empire is in a serious economic crisis. We know that. The austerity measures imposed by Europe on especially the Greek working class are aimed at addressing the crisis of the diminishing rate of profit. It is the same process – but without pressure from the EU – that is compelling the British government to reduce social welfare in order to bail out the banks.

But more serious than the economic is the geo-political crisis. You have to come from the global south to fully appreciate this. Obama has made his peace with Cuba, but every other radical government such as in Venezuela and Ecuador is under siege from domestic conservative forces aided and abetted by the American Empire. Obama’s recent (July 24, 2015) visit to Kenya was primarily to bolster the region’s military apparatus in the fight against terrorism allegedly from Somalia. His quip about gays rights was a clever distraction: the media swiftly picked on this and sidelined the military question.

I come back to Greece … Tsipras had a window of opportunity to seek Russia’s assistance – as a credible threat to the EU and the USA. This would have increased his negotiating strength. He did not do so. Why not? It is possible that he decided not to use it after the NO-vote. Had he used it, that would have made the Ukraine crisis look like a picnic.

The absence of public recognition of the Euro-American Empire is one aspect. More glaring is the absence of any understanding of what we know in the Global South as the National Question– a complex issue which I will not amplify here. However, even if the term NQ is not used, it is the essence behind the resoundingly ‘NO’ vote in the referendum among others, paradoxically by the Rightist Golden Dawn. It is also what Le Pen in France is seriously engaged in. If you think it is an expression of the resurgence of fascism in Europe, you’d be right. But then the hundred years of colonial rule in Africa too was a fascist project. Since Hitler’s use of it, nationalism has become a dirty word – especially among the Left in Europe. But nationalism is not a dirty word in Africa; it is a creative force. As I watched the British elections early this year, I could have told the Labour Party that the Scottish National Party would trounce it. I could see its unmistakably tell-tale signs, smell its fumes.

The Politics of Resistance

There are two kinds of resistance. One is to flee from the scene of suffering. Predictably, there will be massive emigration of the people – especially the young – from Greece to Western Europe. This one looks escapist. But it is not. At its heart is the question of survival, not just for the individual refugee but for the family, the community – those left behind – to continue the struggle from inside.

The other is resistance from within Greece. It will be a protracted war of liberation. Syriza was not adequately prepared to wage this war; it was a coalition of several Left tendencies. It failed, for example, to mobilise the people from day one when it got into power to create an independent currency, or to use the geopolitical opportunity that Russia and China offered it. But at least it laid the seeds of resistance. Syriza will no doubt mutate. A new generation of leaders will learn from the mistakes of Syriza, and create new structures of resistance. This is what we in Africa have learnt – and still learning – from our long struggle against the Empire.

But here is a paradox. The UK and Europe are trying to bar the entry of African refugees. One argument is that they are ‘economic refugees’ and should be stopped entering Europe or sent back. There is no public debate – sadly not even amongst the Left – that these ‘economic refugees’ are creations of the AUSTERITY programs unleashed on the world by the Reagan-Thatcher arch- imperialists since the mid-1980s. In my recent book, Trade is War, I have a blow-by-blow account of how the so-called ‘free trade’ destroyed Africa’s economy. [ii] Now that the austerity program has projected its ugly head in Greece, count on the ‘Africanisation’ of Greece.

By way of conclusion: Africa and the human dimension

There is very little public debate in the West on the Global South’s struggle for liberation from the Empire. Perhaps the almost single exception is Palestine. And since the liberation of South Africa from apartheid there is really very little real debate on Africa. The debate amongst the Left tends too often to become dogmatic and divisive … but above all, Eurocentric. The peace and justice oriented civil society organisations are better engaged than the academia or the media.

I want to take the opportunity of the Greek experience with the Empire-enforced austerity to compare it with Africa. How is Africa different from Greece? If Greece has ignited so much popular anger, why not Africa? If we are all Greeks, are we not all Africans? Is not Africa the birth place of humanity? I mean humanity and not the Homo sapiens, the human genus. I mean Ubuntu. Capitalism has no soul. Ubuntu has soul. The soulless capitalism-imperialism cannot last forever. But it needs a global humanist and nonviolent movement to arouse millions to bring the world back from barbarism to civilization.

[i] http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2111-alain-badiou-eleven-points-inspired-by-the-situation-in-greece

 

[ii] See http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/05/trade-is-war/

WTO is a War Machine

Trade is war: publication is now available