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Democratizing the EU

By Steve Church | Dissident Voice | February 11, 2016

So, superstar Yanis Varoufakis is inaugurating his new outfit, DiEM25, the other day in Berlin, at the Volksbühne theatre, calling for the democratization of the European Union. What?, you say.  Isn’t the EU already democratic?

It is if you think the United States is a democracy. The US was one of the prime movers behind the creation of the EU. And if you don’t believe me, read Circus Politicus (Deloire and Dubois, Albin Michel, 2012).

Post WW II, the US didn’t like the idea of all those foreigners experimenting with communism and socialism, getting the idea that unbridled capitalism maybe wasn’t in their best interests. Best to gather all those idiosyncratic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, difficult-to-control tendencies under one big homogenized tent in Brussels, far from the prying eyes of the “people ,” and under the control of obedient, willing proxies taking their orders from thousands of Anglo-American lobbyists. This is one time that the mission was pretty much accomplished.

If you don’t believe me, just look at Greece. Or the EU’s support of the illegal interventions in the Middle East or Africa.

eu_vs_greece

If you go to DiEM25’s web site and read the Manifesto, you’ll probably say to yourself that what they’re saying seems reasonable and just. And I would tend to agree if it were not for the idea that reforming the EU is like trying to reform capitalism. And trying to do it within the confines of the labyrinthine hazards of the system in place in Brussels by creating yet another layer of commissions and representatives will only hinder the process of liberation.

What happened to the idea that independent, sovereign countries can get along? Given our present means of communications, do we still need a separate, distant overlord to settle disputes of whatever nature? A distant collective of officials subject to the same pressures that exist in Brussels today? Whatever happened to the saying, “Think globally, act locally”?

I rather doubt that, without the propaganda of the globalized media, or their captive NGOs, we would have had all the conflicts that are tearing so many countries apart.  How many Greeks really want to go around the world bombing other countries into democracy?

Plus, take a look at the outfits that are promoting the Varoufakis initiative. The European University Institute, sponsor of ROAR magazine. Or another outfit, European Alternatives, and take a look at their funders.  Seems to be a lot of corporate, lords and ladies types there, and I doubt Jeremy Corbyn is their favorite politician. Reminds me of USAID or NED (or NPR, for that matter), or any of the other so-called democracy advocacy groups that go around funding and provoking “liberation” movements like what happened in the Ukraine.

Does that sound like fun?

Steve Church is a former teacher, skipper, and sheep herder living in France. Email him at: steve.church@orange.fr.

February 12, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Syriza’s Two Mistakes and Two Lessons

By John Halle | Outrages and Interludes | July 16, 2015

That Syriza has made mistakes isn’t in dispute: they themselves have admitted to two main ones.

1) They failed to recognize, despite early warnings from party members such as Costas Lapavistas, that the EU was negotiating in bad faith.  The EU’s intention was never to reach an agreement but to destroy Syriza and with it the hope that the victims of the endless bleeding of austerity had any democratic recourse. Furthermore, the negotiations were themselves a tactic in that, as former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis now admits, they prevented him from focussing on the one thing which Syriza could have used in its negotiations: a viable plan to exit the Eurozone in a way which minimized disruption to the economy and maximize the chances that it would return to health in the shortest possible time.

2)  We now know from Varoufakis that Syriza  had “a small group . . .  within the ministry, of about five people” that were planning in secret for a Grexit. This was, as he concedes, not even close to what was required to effect a viable transition to a new currency. Of course, no serious person should have any illusions that a Grexit would be “easy”, even with a massive investment in staff and infrastructure, any more than recovering from a major earthquake, hurricane or bombing of a nation’s major cities by a foreign power. Rather, just as a government is expected to prepare for disasters whether these are acts of god or attacks from hostile foreign powers, Syriza was derelict in failing to plan for what Varoufakis now accepts was “a coup” albeit executed not by “tanks” but by “banks”.

1) The Bankruptcy of “Speaking Truth to Power” Liberalism

Despite Syriza’s self-definition as “the party of the radical left”, much of its leadership and many of its advisers would reject the designation, more accurately being categorized within our political lexicon as liberals. Among these is Varoufakis’s close friend and UT Austin colleague Jamie Galbraith who described himself as “a reasonable and hopeful observer” of  Syriza’s initial negotiations with the E.U.  Rather than dismiss German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a right wing ideologue Galbraith praised her for “having made some of the mildest comments of any German politician,” and for having “chosen with care” her words on the subject of debt relief which, according to him, she had not rejected.

Galbraith’s report of the negotiations gave further grounds for hope that “the German government, having taken a very tough line through the process, took a step back from that tough line in order to secure a basic framework agreement for going forward.”

As we now know, the softening on the German’s hard line was a liberal chimera. Galbraith now recognizes that “the negotiations were a bit of a farce all along” and has admitted that he should have recognized that Chancellor Merkel was always “completely unreceptive.”

Varoufakis, while famously defining his political orientation as “Marxist” (albeit “erratic”) evidently shared Galbraith’s liberal confidence in the good will of the Eurocrat negotiators. This is apparent in his surprise when his attempts to reason with them were unsatisfactory-to put it mildly. According to his recent interview in the New Statesmen,

“It’s not that (they) didn’t go down well – it’s that there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. And that’s startling, for somebody who’s used to academic debate. … The other side always engages. Well there was no engagement at all. It was not even annoyance, it was as if one had not spoken.”

What is on display is the disenchantment of liberals who operated on a presumption of good intentions and underlying rationality of elite technocrats. Radicals such as Lapavistas do not. For them, providing “arguments” to the institutional representatives of capital makes no more sense than addressing a hyena with its fangs clamped on one’s jugular. The hyena is acting not according to reason but according to its fundamental nature and so are the capitalist hyenas who were Syriza’s negotiating partners.

It was foolish to negotiate with any other expectation, as both Varoufakis and Galbraith now have effectively conceded.

2) Goldman Sachs DOES care (if you raise chickens)

A second explanation for one of Syriza’s crucial mistakes involves assumptions made by segments of their left, as opposed to (neo-) liberal wing, which includes Varoufakis and others who he refers to as “committed Europeanists.” By that he means that they are committed to the longstanding principle of left internationalism and cosmopolitanism. They also tend to view favorably the comparative advantage accruing to globalized trading networks which provide the economies of scale making possible large efficiencies in production of basic goods and also in making available raw materials at low cost. While their position is reasonable, it also has a negative side in that internationalists tend to denigrate the potential of local, small scale experiments in alternative economic systems of the sort which have been championed by Richard Wolff and Gar Alperowitz among others under the heading of worker self directed enterprises and workplace democracy.

Why this matters is that it is apparent that some form of what Wolff and Alperowitz are proposing will be crucial in the event of a Grexit. Prior to a national currency being re-established, local networks of production and exchange of the sort which globalization has long since eradicated will need to be revived and again made viable. That includes, incidentally, various forms of local food production of the sort denigrated by the verticalist left under the widely circulated meme “Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens.”

In fact, whether Greece will collapse into chaos and starvation will have to do with whether they are able to reduce their reliance on imported goods ramping up local production in all spheres including most crucially in food production-not as a neo-Calvinist moral imperative but to maintain a minimal caloric intake. It is likely that many small scale initiatives will need to be launched and developed to accomplish that, some along the lines the WW II Victory Gardens whose production equalled that of all commercial sources of vegetables during the war years. Of course, Goldman Sachs would like nothing better than for Greek efforts at self-reliance to fail which is to say they hope the Greeks don’t raise chickens-and starve for not having done so: the exact opposite of facile, leftish conventional wisdom.

Conclusion: No War but the Class War

While small, the Victory Gardens were not an insignificant contribution to a nation in a state of war. And, to reiterate the point, the comparison of a state of war to what will be required under a Grexit is entirely appropriate.

For while some of us want to avert our eyes, the left always recognized that the war by the rich against the poor is a war just as much as any other. An economic war does not involve missiles, antipersonnel weapons and M-16s. Its weapons are state enforced privatization schemes, debt swaps and interest rate manipulation. Rather than puncture wounds, severed limbs and  the casualties take the form of thousands of unnecessary deaths due to inadequately staffed and supplied hospitals, bacterial infections due to inadequately maintained sewage treatment facilities and collapsing buildings, food poisoning epidemics due to the mass layoffs of inspectors in regulatory agencies. An almost endless list can be compiled itemizing the social collapse resulting from economic warfare carried about by fountain pens rather than guns. Varoufakis has now woken up to the reality that his country has been attacked by an axis of foreign powers, that they are bent on its destruction and have one goal in mind: claiming the spoils of victory, disbursing to their owners in the investor class. It is time the rest of the left joined him there and here-on our feet and ready to fight them, in whatever way we can.

July 19, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Problem of Greece is not Only a Tragedy: It is a Lie

By John Pilger | CounterPunch | July 13, 2015

An historic betrayal has consumed Greece. Having set aside the mandate of the Greek electorate, the Syriza government has willfully ignored last week’s landslide “No” vote and secretly agreed a raft of repressive, impoverishing measures in return for a “bailout” that means sinister foreign control and a warning to the world.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has pushed through parliament a proposal to cut at least 13 billion euros from the public purse – 4 billion euros more than the “austerity” figure rejected overwhelmingly by the majority of the Greek population in a referendum on 5 July.

These reportedly include a 50 per cent increase in the cost of healthcare for pensioners, almost 40 per cent of whom live in poverty; deep cuts in public sector wages; the complete privatization of public facilities such as airports and ports; a rise in value added tax to 23 per cent, now applied to the Greek islands where people struggle to eke out a living. There is more to come.

“Anti-austerity party sweeps to stunning victory”, declared a Guardian headline on January 25. “Radical leftists” the paper called Tsipras and his impressively-educated comrades. They wore open neck shirts, and the finance minister rode a motorbike and was described as a “rock star of economics”. It was a façade. They were not radical in any sense of that cliched label, neither were they “anti austerity”.

For six months Tsipras and the recently discarded finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, shuttled between Athens and Brussels, Berlin and the other centres of European money power. Instead of social justice for Greece, they achieved a new indebtedness, a deeper impoverishment that would merely replace a systemic rottenness based on the theft of tax revenue by the Greek super-wealthy – in accordance with European “neo-liberal” values — and cheap, highly profitable loans from those now seeking Greece’s scalp.

Greece’s debt, reports an audit by the Greek parliament, “is illegal, illegitimate and odious”. Proportionally, it is less than 30 per cent that of the debit of Germany, its major creditor. It is less than the debt of European banks whose “bailout” in 2007-8 was barely controversial and unpunished.

For a small country such as Greece, the euro is a colonial currency: a tether to a capitalist ideology so extreme that even the Pope pronounces it “intolerable” and “the dung of the devil”. The euro is to Greece what the US dollar is to remote territories in the Pacific, whose poverty and servility is guaranteed by their dependency.

In their travels to the court of the mighty in Brussels and Berlin, Tsipras and Varoufakis presented themselves neither as radicals nor “leftists” nor even honest social democrats, but as two slightly upstart supplicants in their pleas and demands. Without underestimating the hostility they faced, it is fair to say they displayed no political courage. More than once, the Greek people found out about their “secret austerity plans” in leaks to the media: such as a 30 June letter published in the Financial Times, in which Tsipras promised the heads of the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF to accept their basic, most vicious demands – which he has now accepted.

When the Greek electorate voted “no” on 5 July to this very kind of rotten deal, Tsipras said, “Come Monday and the Greek government will be at the negotiating table after the referendum with better terms for the Greek people”. Greeks had not voted for “better terms”. They had voted for justice and for sovereignty, as they had done on January 25.

The day after the January election a truly democratic and, yes, radical government would have stopped every euro leaving the country, repudiated the “illegal and odious” debt – as Argentina did successfully — and expedited a plan to leave the crippling Eurozone. But there was no plan. There was only a willingness to be “at the table” seeking “better terms”.

The true nature of Syriza has been seldom examined and explained. To the foreign media it is no more than “leftist” or “far left” or “hardline” – the usual misleading spray. Some of Syriza’s international supporters have reached, at times, levels of cheer leading reminiscent of the rise of Barack Obama. Few have asked: Who are these “radicals”? What do they believe in?

In 2013, Yanis Varoufakis wrote: “Should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising capitalism? To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism …

“I bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated …. Yes, I would love to put forward [a] radical agenda. But, no, I am not prepared to commit the [error of the British Labour Party following Thatcher’s victory].

“What good did we achieve in Britain in the early 1980s by promoting an agenda of socialist change that British society scorned while falling headlong into Thatcher’s neoliberal trip? Precisely none. What good will it do today to call for a dismantling of the Eurozone, of the European Union itself …?”

Varoufakis omits all mention of the Social Democratic Party that split the Labour vote and led to Blairism. In suggesting people in Britain “scorned socialist change” – when they were given no real opportunity to bring about that change – he echoes Blair.

The leaders of Syriza are revolutionaries of a kind – but their revolution is the perverse, familiar appropriation of social democratic and parliamentary movements by liberals groomed to comply with neo-liberal drivel and a social engineering whose authentic face is that of Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, an imperial thug. Like the Labour Party in Britain and its equivalents among former social democratic parties such as the Labor Party in Australia, still describing themselves as “liberal” or even “left”, Syriza is the product of an affluent, highly privileged, educated middle class, “schooled in postmodernism”, as Alex Lantier wrote.

For them, class is the unmentionable, let alone an enduring struggle, regardless of the reality of the lives of most human beings. Syriza’s luminaries are well-groomed; they lead not the resistance that ordinary people crave, as the Greek electorate has so bravely demonstrated, but “better terms” of a venal status quo that corrals and punishes the poor. When merged with “identity politics” and its insidious distractions, the consequence is not resistance, but subservience. “Mainstream” political life in Britain exemplifies this.

This is not inevitable, a done deal, if we wake up from the long, postmodern coma and reject the myths and deceptions of those who claim to represent us, and fight.

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment