Socialist Worker

The potential to shut Greece down

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 2203

The price of the so-called “rescue” of Greece is massive austerity for working people. This is coming up against resistance from the most militant working class in Europe.

The general strike on 5 May was very significant. Greece is a country where general strikes happen quite a lot—but this wasn’t just a good general strike. It had qualities of a real workers’ insurgency.

In Constitution Square in the centre of Athens, massive crowds confronted riot police as they tried to get into the parliament.

The struggle is moving beyond the stage where a one-day general strike, or a succession of one-day general strikes, is sufficient to express workers’ anger.

The scale of the attacks—cuts in public services, jobs and pensions, and raising the retirement age—is such that the level of struggle has to rise in order to stop it.

More one-day general strikes are not enough. The struggle needs to move towards indefinite strikes by those groups of workers who are most under threat.

Power workers may be coming out on strike soon. If that became an all-out strike, it has the potential to shut Greece down.

But there is a big problem with the struggle. Though Greece has the biggest radical left in Europe, the dominant forces on the left aren’t really rising to the challenge.

The Greek Communist Party is massive, but its highly sectarian. Its strategy is to say, vote for us because we have the answers to the crisis.

The coalition of the radical left, Syriza, has always lived off the ambiguity of combining opportunistic politics with revolutionary rhetoric. That ambiguity can’t hold.

SEK, the Socialist Workers Party’s sister organisation, is involved in an anti-capitalist coalition, Antarsya, which is attracting more powerful forces and having some effect on the struggle. A very exciting situation is unfolding.


If we step back from Greece, we see how the crisis there has caused austerity programmes to ricochet across Europe. Vulnerable governments have adopted increasingly severe austerity programmes to appease the markets.

It’s happened in Spain and Portugal, and it’s clearly happening here as well.

The illusions that the crisis is essentially over and that the key economic question for our leaders is how to handle the recovery have been destroyed.

The markets have woken up to how fragile the situation is and the rich are worried about the possibility of a double dip recession.

That is the nightmare scenario for the capitalist class. The protracted recession in the 1930s lasted for ten years and went through a succession of different phases. The present crisis is comparable to that.

Its present phase is dominated by the so-called problem of sovereign debt.

That’s the debt that governments have accumulated—and it is leading to a crisis in the eurozone in particular.

Governments have borrowed and spent on a massive scale to try and stave off the crisis. This has increased government debt.

In the eurozone, this general crisis of public debt combines with the structural flaws of the eurozone. There are two main flaws.

Firstly, the euro is based purely on a monetary union, not a fiscal one. The European Union does not have the authority to implement European-wide tax and spending policies—and so it falls to nation-states to deal with the crisis.

Secondly, the euro brings together Germany, a huge exporting machine, with a lot of much weaker economies. These states import a lot of German goods and have borrowed heavily to pay for them—in particular from German and French banks.

The so-called rescue of Greece is essentially an effort to rescue the French and German banks. If Greece defaulted, that would deal a further blow to the banks that are already weakened by the broader crisis.

The flaws in the eurozone make a toxic combination.

This column is transcribed from a speech given last weekend to SWP Party Council

Alex has recently returned from Greece. While there he was interviewed by tvxs. The interview (in Greek), can be read at »

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Alex Callinicos
Tue 25 May 2010, 18:07 BST
Issue No. 2203
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