Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Alan Gilbert will speak on the Greek democratic protests on KGNU – FM 88.5, AM 1390 – today at 6:30 pm

Claudia Cragg is doing a show on “It/s the economy, stupid” Thursday on KGNU – FM 88.5, Am 1390 in Denver and Boulder – on the deficits created by the rich being shunted relentlessly onto the poor in America and Europe. At 6 pm mountain time , she will speak with Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist from the University of Maryland at Baltimore, about the situation in the United States and the effect of political “gridlock” on preventing any further stimuls to the economy. She will then talk with me about the debt crisis in Greece and my experience, reported here, of the direct democracy demonstrations in Syntagma Square in front of parliament (I will also answer questions from callers) – 6:30-7.

Three weeks of demonstrations, of some 50,000 people each, with debates lasting long into the night, and on the Sunday four days after I wrote, some 300,000 people, took place in Syntagma Square; on June 15, the day Papandreou had proposed to enact the massive cutbacks, a million nonviolent protesters gathered, intent on stopping Parliament. They were viciously attacked by the police. Papandreou lost the support of 25 socialists and could not pass his program. These demonstrations make several very large and important points. First, there is an international resistance to the authoritarian policies of the European and American banks, the aganaktismenoi - the Greek indignados or the enraged - that were called forth by and echo the indignados in Spain – see here – and Portugal.

Second, the demonstrators practiced direct democracy descending from the old Athens. People took turns speaking from below, the assembly (though of 50,000) was genuinely popular. This movement is an arena for new proposals, proposals to make Greece democratic in the sense of serving the ordinary people and a common good. This is a startling contrast to the government, led by the socialist George Papandreou (the President of the Second International yet) who with determination, is trying to bleed the poor to sustain the banks.

Third, the American corporate press did not cover this protest until the explosion in Greece on June 15th and then has buried democratic revolution in stories about the financial "necessities" affecting Greece. Greece could – very likely will - default on its debt over the next year and that would be as bad as Lehman Brothers, leading into a further economic collapse (the policy of cutbacks launched by Germany and England also tend to produce such a collapse, unfortunately). But the commerical papers still mislead about the real demands of the Greek people, speaking at most only of numbers - 16% unemployment, 36% youth unemployment (I don’t know if these statistics are less slanted to understate unemployment than American ones) – and not voices. But the young people in Athens were protesting about Papandreou’s maximum wage for anyone under 25: 500 euros a month. Even if you live with 4 or 5 other people, try not going hungry on that wage in Athens…

That is the core reason that Papandreou could not put across his program June 15th. With the popular battle raging in the streets, people trying to occupy the Parliament, 25 socialists (Papandreou’s party) refused to vote for his proposals. Papandreo backed off temporarily, threatened to resign, appointed a new finance minister. Today the Parliament confirmed the government and he will try to pass these measures again on June 28. But the protests may make it impossible for the bankers to collect the money – like their colleagues in the United States, they have sacrificed nothing, demand ever more - at the imposition of such suffering.

Fourth, one of the democratic proposals that my friend Athanasios Bobos has joined in is to have a new popular assembly (initially suggested by Aristotle) which would evaluate leadership in relationship to campaign promises (Papandreou ran two years ago on limiting the effects of austerity, particularly on the poor). This assembly would require leaders who did the opposite of what they campaigned on, not to run again, or recommend cases of criminality to the courts (there was strong sentiment in the crowds for this). Such an assembly would be a startling democratic improvement.

Fifth, there is large sentiment for returning to the drachma, abandoning Europe and using Keynsian methods to put people to work. At the least, the Greeks could devalue the drachma themselves, as they cannot the Euro, and spur exports and jobs. A European community which strangles democracy and ordinary people to elevate the banks and the very rich, is not viable.

Sixth, as Madison revealed, democratic movements, inspired by Arab spring in Tunisia and Egypt, are also needed in the United States. The attack on collective bargaining, the increasing immiseration and joblessness for 15% of the workforce, are growing apace. The American economic elite will make money abroad; while the middle class disappears at home. A year ago, Greek workers put a banner on the Acropolis. “Europe, join us.” Their call also applies to America, urgent especially for the young.

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