No! The decision of the Greek people has shown us that Neoliberalism can be challenged. Whether it can be beaten will require more than the bravery of a single nation. To defeat the neoliberals’ greed and cruelty, not just Greece but the whole world will have to find the courage to say: “No!”
THE UNFOLDING CRISIS in Greece has stripped Neoliberalism of its protective disguise and the world is recoiling from its ugliness. In normal circumstances the true purposes of the world’s neoliberal elites are masked by their use of opaque economic jargon. In the case of Greece, however, the social science of economics has been turned against them by some of its most impressive exponents. Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have told the world that what is being done to Greece has nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with politics. A whole country is being driven to the wall in a desperate bid to destroy its left-wing government. Neoliberalism simply cannot allow the Greek Prime Minister’s, Alexis Tsipras’s, powerful lessons in democracy to go unpunished. If his Syriza Party is allowed to defeat austerity in Greece, what is there to prevent Podemos from defeating it in Spain? Or Sinn Fein in Ireland?
Hence the ugliness. Deprived of credible economic arguments for insisting that the Greek government persist with an austerity programme that has already shrunk Greece’s GDP by 25 percent and kept upwards of 60 percent of her young people out of the paid work force, the EU’s neoliberal elites – particularly the German holders of the neoliberal franchise – have been forced to resort to outright lies and childish insults.
Germany’s 72-year-old Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, has clearly been unable to cope with his 54-year-old Greek counterpart, Yanis Varoufakis. Everything about the free-wheeling Greek economics professor offends the unyielding German ideologue. Varoufakis has been unsparing in his criticism of Germany’s inability to grasp the necessity for Greek debt relief (which even the IMF now acknowledges). It’s an act of insubordination which Schauble and his colleagues are resolutely determined to punish. So unchallenged has neoliberalism’s ideological hegemony been since the collapse of Soviet-style socialism that it finds itself unable to adequately respond to Varoufakis’s neo-Keynesian populist critiques. Their greatest fear is that, like the little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, the Greek Finance Minister will draw the world’s attention to the fact that the neoliberal German Emperor is wearing no clothes.
With Schauble and his neoliberal colleagues forced on to the defensive by the combined diplomatic and intellectual onslaught of Tsipras and Varoufakis, mobilisation orders were swiftly issued to neoliberalism’s reserve units located in the global news media. These latter lost no time in launching vicious attacks against the Syriza leadership – especially Varoufakis – and redoubled their blatantly racist denigration of the Greek people as a whole. This latter tactic had been in operation ever since Greece’s creditors had forced successive Greek governments into slashing the living standards of their own people. Cast as indolent Mediterranean grasshoppers (so unlike the hard-working Teutonic ants, whose borrowed Euros they had fecklessly frittered away) the Greek victims of neoliberal extremism were told that they had no one to blame but themselves.
Even at a distance of 17,000 kilometres from Athens, New Zealand’s neoliberal journalists and commentators have been working hard to maintain the two central arguments for neoliberalism’s assault on Greece. That the Syriza Government’s position is economically untenable; and that, in any case, the Greek people had it coming and richly deserve everything they have got. To pull this off they have had to studiously ignore the highly critical contributions of leading economists, while attempting to preserve the fiction that Greece has no alternative except to swallow still more of the austerity poison.
The most disturbing aspect of the mainstream news media’s adherence to the neoliberal line has been its willingness to go along with ethnic defamation. Just substitute the word “Maori” for “Greeks” in these neoliberal tirades and the full racist character of the attacks becomes clear. Newspapers and networks that would never allow contributors to get away with calling Maori lazy, good-for-nothing, ne’er-do-wells with no one to blame for their poverty but themselves, were quite happy to have it said of the Greeks.
It was, however, Tsipras’s decision to put the question of whether or not to persist with the EU’s austerity programme to a referendum that stripped away the last vestiges of Neoliberalism’s technocratic disguise. Now they were required to openly disparage not just Syriza, not just the Greek people, but democracy itself. In extremis, the neoliberals had no choice but to demonstrate, in a fashion that people who value democratic principles could not miss, that the interests of those who are both empowered and enriched by their control of the markets; and the interests of the people whose lives are cheapened and constrained by the operations of those same markets; have always been, and are still, on a collision course.
The decision of the Greek people has shown us that Neoliberalism can be challenged. Whether it can be beaten will require more than the bravery of a single nation. To defeat the neoliberals’ greed and cruelty, not just Greece but the whole world will have to find the courage to say: “No!”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 6 July 2015.