The Heresy of the Greeks Offers Hope

As Britain’s political class pretends that its arranged marriage of Tweedledee to Tweedledum is democracy, the inspiration for the rest of us is Greece. It is hardly surprising that Greece is presented not as a beacon but as a “junk country” getting its comeuppance for its “bloated public sector” and “culture of cutting corners” (the Observer). The heresy of Greece is that the uprising of its ordinary people provides an authentic hope unlike that lavished upon the warlord in the White House.

The crisis that has led to the “rescue” of Greece by the European banks and the International Monetary Fund is the product of a grotesque financial system which itself is in crisis. Greece is a microcosm of a modern class war that is rarely reported as such and is waged with all the urgency of panic among the imperial rich.

What makes Greece different is that within its living memory is invasion, foreign occupation, betrayal by the West, military dictatorship and popular resistance. Ordinary people are not cowed by the corrupt corporatism that dominates the European Union. The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the present Pasok (Labour) government of George Papandreou, was described by the French sociologist Jean Ziegler as “a machine for systematic pillaging the country’s resources”. 

The machine had infamous friends. The US Federal reserve Board is investigating the role of Goldman Sachs and other American hedge fund operators which gambled on the bankruptcy of Greece as public assets were sold off and its tax-evading rich deposited 360 billion euros in Swiss banks. The largest Greek ship-owners transferred their companies abroad. This haemorrhage of capital continues with the approval of the European central banks and governments.

At 11 per cent, Greece’s deficit is no higher than America’s. However, when the Papandreou government tried to borrow on the international capital market, it was effectively blocked by the American corporate ratings agencies, which “downgraded” Greece to “junk”. These same agencies gave triple-A ratings to billions of dollars in so-called sub-prime mortgage securities and so precipitated the economic collapse in 2008.

What has happened in Greece is theft on an epic, though not unfamiliar scale. In Britain, the “rescue” of banks like Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland has cost billions of pounds. Thanks to the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, and his passion for the avaricious instincts of the City of London, these gifts of public money were unconditional, and the bankers have continued to pay each other the booty they call bonuses. Under Britain’s political monoculture, they can do as they wish. In the United States, the situation is even more remarkable, reports investigative journalist David DeGraw, “[as the principal Wall Street banks] that destroyed the economy pay zero in taxes and get $33 billion in refunds”.

In Greece, as in America and Britain, the ordinary people have been told they must repay the debts of the rich and powerful who incurred the debts. Jobs, pensions and public services are to be slashed and burned, with privateers in charge. For the European Union and the IMF, the opportunity presents to “change the culture” and dismantle the social welfare of Greece, just as the IMF and the World Bank have “structurally adjusted” (impoverished and controlled) countries across the developing world.

Greece is hated for the same reason Yugoslavia had to be physically destroyed behind a pretence of protecting the people of Kosovo. Most Greeks are employed by the state, and the young and the unions comprise a popular alliance that has not been pacified; the colonels’ tanks on the campus of Athens University remain a political spectre. Such resistance is anathema to Europe’s central bankers and regarded as an obstruction to German capital’s need to capture markets in the aftermath of Germany’s troubled reunification.

In Britain, such has been the 30-year propaganda of an extreme economic theory known first as monetarism then as neo-liberalism, that the new prime minister can, like his predecessor, describe his demands that ordinary people pay the debts of crooks as “fiscally responsible”. The unmentionables are poverty and class. Almost a third of British children remain below the breadline. In working class Kentish Town in London, male life expectancy is 70. Two miles away, in Hampstead, it is 80. When Russia was subjected to similar “shock therapy” in the 1990s, life expectancy nosedived. A record 40 million impoverished Americans are currently receiving food stamps: that is, they cannot afford to feed themselves.

In the developing world, a system of triage imposed by the World Bank and the IMF has long determined whether people live or die. Whenever tariffs and food and fuel subsidies are eliminated by IMF diktat, small farmers know they have been declared expendable. The World Resources Institute estimates that the toll reaches 13-18 million child deaths every year. “This,” wrote the economist Lester C. Thurow, “is neither metaphor nor simile of war, but war itself.”

The same imperial forces have used horrific military weapons against stricken countries whose majorities are children, and approved torture as an instrument of foreign policy. It is a phenomenon of denial that none of these assaults on humanity, in which Britain is actively engaged, were allowed to intrude on the British election.

The people on the streets of Athens do not suffer this malaise. They are clear who the enemy is and they regard themselves as once again under foreign occupation. And once again, they are rising up, with courage. When David Cameron begins to cleave £6 billion from public services in Britain, he will be bargaining that Greece will not happen in Britain. We should prove him wrong.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (Bantam/Random House, 2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on May 21st, 2010 at 9:13am #

    Oh dear! It’s smear the EU time again! Mr Pilger is repeating the current propaganda line that American Empire supporters have been frantically peddling ever since the enormity of Wall St’s political blunder became clear. Of course, he admits that the attack came from Wall St and its dishonest rating agencies (who could deny it?). He also admits that Greece is far from being the most indebted country in the world (could anyone deny that either?). But essentially, he’s trying to re-assert the classic Empire propaganda line that the EU is in America’s pocket, hard to defend when Wall St deliberately attacks the EU’s currency! Why would the EU need to be attacked if that were true? Wouldn’t EU leaders have meekly complied with a Wall St request to abolish the euro? Why put themselves to so much trouble to fight back? Why fight back at all? And if the whole thing was just a pretext to dismantle Europe’s welfare state, why would EU leaders cause themselves so much domestic political trouble just to do that? That’s one screwball conspiracy theory that’s going to take a lot of proving! It’s like burning down your house just to stop it catching fire! Finally, I’d love to know who Mr Pilger thinks hates Greece or what any of this has to do with ex-Yugoslavia, or, indeed, where Mr Pilger gets the odd idea that the latter country has been “physically destroyed” (by whom?). Naturally, the Empire is fighting back, but it will never again be possible to claim that America rules the world! Or that Europe is in its pocket!

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 21st, 2010 at 9:37am #

    Reading Pilger is always a joy, but here he is razor-sharp and succinct. The war by the parasites against the rest of humanity may take class,race, misogynistic and sectarian paths, but at base it is the expression of a psychological state. Those that control the world, many hereditarily,others recruited as they prove their mettle, display one salient, undeniable feature. They hate other people, including each other and, in most cases not affected by febrile self-admiration, themselves as well. The sheer brutality of the murder and destruction rained down on Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza, is no different from that visited on the people of Indochina, Hiroshima and Dresden. These creatures, our global overlords, are psychopaths every bit as evil as Peter Sutcliffe orTed Bundy, but far, far more dangerous. The mark of their rule over the planet is the cruelty, the mass murder, the targeting of children and the rapidly unfolding ecological collapse as the planet that has been ravaged to sate their insatiable greed, buckles under the hyper-exploitation. We have no time left at all to remove these dead souls from power, forever, or our time as a civilization, if not as a species, is definitively near its end. The rest of creation will spill not a single tear.

  3. bozh said on May 21st, 2010 at 10:33am #

    I approve of pilger but i think he shldn’t split asunder people into ordinary and not ordinary [superior?]. Is this a slip or corresponds to his evaluation that indeed there are superior and ordinary [inferior?] people?
    If the latter is true, he cannot then be for an egalitarian society; the only society that cld prevent or obviate warfare, exploitation, angst, hatred, anger, envy, etc.

    Nature-god twosome does not make mistakes nor ordinary people; people do that and with a sinister aim in mind! tnx

  4. Gary S. Corseri said on May 21st, 2010 at 10:54am #

    Bravo, John Pilger! You don’t pull your punches, you provide historical context, your analysis is clear. And, I believe your predictions are prescient.

    You’re right about the Greek masses being too wise, too savvy to steam-roller (or Caterpillar-over) with falacious arguments about “fiscal responsibility” or “too big to fail.” IMF, World Bank, Central Banks and Wall Street and Fleet Street propaganda–which we in the U.S., Britain, and much of the world now–imbibe with mother’s milk and our daily dosage of pharmaceuticalized media–the Greeks can stand up to that malarkey and say, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

    Even Amerika’s dullard middle classes are waking up to the way they’ve been date-raped and bamboozled by the drug merchants of propaganda, war and corporate swindles.

    Of course, many here, stumbling in their dazed confusion, are pointing their fingers in all directions, including their own eyes! Our auguries are mixed: the results of our off-term elections evince anger against incumbents, but not a whole lot of clarity about the entanglements of our political-economic-social-cultural farrago.

    “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction,” Blake wrote. Time will tell if Americans’ and their British cousins’ “tigers of wrath” (the people’s gut feelings and instinctual wisdom) is wiser than decades of equine “instruction” (i.e., indoctrination and propaganda)!

  5. lamella said on May 21st, 2010 at 11:04am #

    Mr. Pilger’s figure of a 11% GDP 2009 deficit for Greece is pretty optimistic, considering that since April the EU itself has known it was at least 13.6% of GDP, maybe even 14%. That’s a few percentage points higher than the USA’s forecast budget deficit this year, just how many depends on who you believe. The even more troubling issue with Greece however is that their 2009 public debt was ~115% of GDP (the USA’s 2009 public debt was ~55% of GDP). Obviously that pattern of borrowing is unsustainable (especially in a smaller country), the EU would eventually act to protect the strength of the Euro, and the hammer was going to come down in a painful fashion.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the main tenets of the article, that Anglo-American bankers got rich creating an economic bubble in Greece and now they expect Greek citizens and workers to pay the price of popping it, but the author would do well to avoid sloppy reporting.

  6. Don Hawkins said on May 21st, 2010 at 12:03pm #

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
    Joseph Goebbels

    “Information is not knowledge.”
    Albert Einstein

    We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office
    –Aesop (~550 BC)

    The last time many of us checked we can’t get there from here and where is here, deep do do. What about there just where is there any ideas on that one? Unknown author

  7. Don Hawkins said on May 21st, 2010 at 1:00pm #

    The truth is the greatest enemy of the State? It seems in today’s strangeness the lies are not even that good anymore. I mean high school thinking and that’s being nice. So far it seems to be working and the State I guess has it’s lies and the private sector has it’s lies and the talking heads you see on TV are paid by both those group’s to also lie. It’s nut’s as not what just happened here in the States with the economy and the big fix but heck let’s use just one example the ice in the Arctic is now at record melt levels and do we hear one word. Maybe we need to add silence to the list of lies. It’s almost like these people are competing on who can tell the biggest lie. Oh that was a good one but I can top that it’s nut’s. Maybe on Fox New’s old Glenn Beck will use Joseph Goebbels tonight and the State we need to take American back from the Socialists and in the next breath will tell us the government is going to lock-up our home electrical outlets the ice caps are not melting there getting bigger it sure was cold this winter.

  8. lichen said on May 21st, 2010 at 4:01pm #

    The EU is a wildly undemocratic, radical-capitalist organization; it deserves to be smeared, to be abolished. I stand by the people of Greece against them, wall street AND the EU/IMF, etc.

  9. dan e said on May 21st, 2010 at 4:16pm #

    Poor Michael Kenny, forever doomed to his Sisyphean labors, forever condemned to repeat over and over that two plus two equals five.

    One thing he HAS managed to prove: a broken record CAN provide a lot of entertainment:)

  10. bozh said on May 21st, 2010 at 5:25pm #

    Lichen, yes,
    asocialists uniting. that’s what euro-fascists are doing now. makes oppression-warfare easy against working classes, socialist, and muslim lands! tnx

  11. Don Hawkins said on May 22nd, 2010 at 3:33am #

    Reality. Governments worldwide are ignoring these conclusions from the science. In
    their policy discussions they seemingly do not appreciate a fossil fuel/economics “law” that is as
    sure as the law of gravity: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, the world will keep
    burning them.
    I did not write my talk, except the final few paragraphs, which were:
    It is not my job to suggest policy, and I certainly will not interfere in French politics. However, I
    would like to note that we, the world, desperately need some nation to stand up and tell the other
    nations the truth: we cannot solve the climate/energy problem without a rising price on carbon, a
    tax. Cap-and-trade with offsets will not work. And China and India will never accept a cap –
    why should they, as long as their per capita emissions are much smaller than the West?* There
    needs to be a steadily rising price on carbon, with the money collected distributed to the public.
    I think that it is my job as a scientist to connect the dots all the way with scientific
    objectivity using all empirical evidence. And it is my job, as a father and grandfather concerned
    about young people, future generations, and the other species that share our planet, to point out
    that the path the world is on, if we stay on it, guarantees that we will push the climate system
    beyond tipping points.
    This is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational injustice. Because of the inertia and
    slow response of the climate system, our generation burns most of the fossil fuels and reaps the
    benefits while future generations bear the costs. We, the older generations and our governments,
    cannot pretend that we do not understand this situation – we must accept responsibility. James Hansen

    The world, desperately need some nation to stand up and tell the other
    nations the truth: we cannot solve the climate/energy problem without a rising price on carbon, a
    tax. Cap-and-trade with offsets will not work. The TRUTH and is it to late for the Arctic the ice much more warming, yes. If we started today with very hard choices that would take ten years to get into place we stand a chance. From the looks of the ice melt so far just this May it’s going to get ruff. This next winter more colder air going South and the winter after that funny weather to say the least. As our forests burn and crops harder every season to grow more extreme weather flooding and drought’s like in the Middle East and so it goes with much silence the truth I didn’t say it would be easy just the truth and what does it have to do with John’s article everything.

  12. Don Hawkins said on May 22nd, 2010 at 4:28am #

    In the developing world, a system of triage imposed by the World Bank and the IMF has long determined whether people live or die. Whenever tariffs and food and fuel subsidies are eliminated by IMF diktat, small farmers know they have been declared expendable. The World Resources Institute estimates that the toll reaches 13-18 million child deaths every year.

    Declared expendable and here in the States with cap and trade guess who is declared expendable all of us. These people are so clever just think two moves ahead like what we just saw with the health care bill or the financial reform bill and then the climate bill guarantees that we will push the climate system
    beyond tipping points. They make it look good you know a fight but in reality no fight just bullshit from both sides as we all go down the drain in not such slow motion. The amazing part is I’ll bet many who work for say Fox New’s or CNN corporations in general think they will be protected in some way wrong only so much room on that private jet to make a long story short. The oil spill in the Gulf there it is the big money and how it play’s out and big coal manages to stay out of the light but it will be the coal to finish us off. When we see these people on TV they seem so nice well sort of as they run back to there gated community to make another long story short. Can hardly wait to see how they handle millions of gallons of oil in the dead sea better known as the gulf and make it seem ok.