Capitalism, Greece, and the End of Lesser-Evil Choosing
The question of whether to vote for the lesser evil in the upcoming presidential election is being resolved even as we wrestle with it. The last few years of global capitalist change and the response thereto in Greece show the historic moment now breaking out of such dead ends.
Greece, like the United States, was long dominated by two old parties. As they divided governmental power between themselves, they became ever more alike. One, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), “moderated” over time and eventually even embraced the vicious austerity imposed on Greece by Europe’s conservatives. The other, New Democracy, represented Greece’s corporate and wealthiest elites allied with whatever conservative cultural and regional allies they could find. As with the Democrats and Republicans in the United States and parallel dualisms elsewhere, a changing global capitalism is dissolving this old style of politics.
In 2004, a coalition of the left, disgusted with PASOK’s “moderation,” formed the new Syriza party. It got the 2–4 percent of the Greek vote expected to be its limit by the complacent old Greek political establishment. Meanwhile, capitalism went on relocating from its old centers (Western Europe, North America, and Japan) to its newer and more profitable factories, offices, and stores in China, India, Brazil, etc. The lure of much lower wages for workers who could easily be supervised and controlled from great distances thanks to telecommunications proved irresistible. Workers’ standards of living in the old centers atrophied while in the new developing zones, the regional partners engaged in relocating capitalist production became very wealthy in a sea of still-poor masses. Capitalism’s global relocation thus deepened wealth and income inequalities in all countries, strained existing economic and political alignments, provoked excessive debt manipulation everywhere, and eventually crashed global capitalism in 2008.
Thus began the demise of the old political deals, organizations, and alignments exposed by their own failures to anticipate, let alone prevent, the crash. The death of the old system was ensured by its two-pronged response to capitalism’s crash: (1) using public funds to bail out the very financial institutions and other major capitalists who caused the crisis and (2) deciding to shift the costs of both crisis and bailouts onto the mass of middle- and lower-income people by imposing “austerity” on them.
This blatant outrage to both democratic sensibilities and even minimal standards of justice and decency now provokes masses of people to move toward new, different political alignments. Greece epitomizes this process, as Syriza grew from single-digit support to last July’s stunning 61 percent victory in a referendum on its stance against austerity. The old Greek parties’ support collapsed, especially that of PASOK. Something similar is happening in Spain around the Podemos political formation and alliances. The signs are there as well in Jeremy Corbyn’s struggle for Labour Party leadership in the United Kingdom and Bernie Sanders’s campaign in the U.S. Democratic Party.
What these and many other comparable examples in other countries share is the dawning recognition that an old politics is giving way to a new politics. The new has been brought on by fundamental changes in how and where capitalism works its mechanisms of deepening inequality (à la Piketty), undermining economic security, and constricting or simply ignoring democracy.
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Wolff, Richard. 2015. Capitalism, Greece, and the End of Lesser-Evil Choosing. Tikkun 31(1): 12.