Social Democracy is Dead

How many nails does it require to forever whack down the coffin lid on European social democracy? It's a political tradition once animated by socialist principles, though in practice social democratic parties have invariably taken the side of capital when the chips were ever seriously down.

In 1914, Lenin was outraged at the sight of social democratic parties across Europe tossing aside the noble principles of international working-class solidarity. These parties rallied behind their national flags, voting war credits to unleash the horrors of the World War I, which doomed millions of working-class conscripts drafted into their national armies.

Lenin would have been caustically unsurprised just over a century later at the current spectacle in Athens.

Here, the supposed leftist Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is ramming through a program of national economic suicide, so German and French banks won't be inconvenienced by bad loans to Greece. The Greek people are scheduled to pay a fearful price.

Ramming through an austerity package, amounting to over 78 billion euro extorted by the bankers, all but one of the 155 deputies of the ruling social democratic PASOK party voted for the government; all but one of the 143 MPs from all other parties voted against it.

The confidence vote took place against the furious protests and resistance of the Greek people. Around 28 billion euro of the total is to be raised through spending cuts and increased revenue, while 50 billion euro will be raised through the privatization of state enterprises, including ports, telecommunications concerns, real estate and stakes in the public power corporation.

Across the next five years, more than two billion euros, or $2.9 billion, are scheduled in cuts to the health sector through 2015 by reducing regulated prices for drugs and increasing taxes on heating oil and the self-employed. Public employment will be slashed. Greece has already cut the wages of its 800,000 public workers — a quarter of the work force — by more than 10 percent.

Papandreou had other options: Simply to refuse to blink in the face of blackmail from Euro-bankers and be prepared to return to its own national currency and restore a measure of sovereignty in the conduct of its economic affairs.

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In Britain, Labour leader Edward Miliband has just condemned teachers and civil servants for a one-day work stoppage to protest savage conservative government cuts in pensions. The sheep-like Miliband declared the one-day strike as “wrong.” Tony Blair did his best to sever all connections between the Labour Party and anything other than fawning obeisance to the bankers and the City of London — and Miliband is clearly set on following in his footsteps.

Move now to France. Lenin would have given yet another caustic laugh at the sight of Strauss-Kahn calculating that the post of managing director of the IMF — bludgeon of the major capitalist powers to extort money from the poorer nations — as a fine qualification to be the presidential candidate of the French social democrats.

The social democratic tradition is played out — and the future for radical challenges to the Money Power lies in reformulations of populism, perhaps in the style of Marine Le Pen now shifting the French Front National away from the unappetizing fascist idiom deployed by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

It really is a bit rich to hear preachments from Germany about the importance of paying debts. Ninety percent of all Germans oppose a bailout for Greece on the grounds of the latter's aversion to paying reparations for its supposed profligacy.

Never has a country flourished more mightily than Germany from flouting reparations and debts.

Albrecht Ritschl, a professor at the London School of Economics, points out in an interview in Der Spiegel that Germany welshed on loans from the U.S. to pay the reparations levied by the Allies after World War I. The Germans invested the money in stocks, which went down the tubes in the crash of 1929. After World War II, a divided German was excused from reparations to countries that it had invaded, such as Greece. Under a 1953 treaty, the issue of reparations was on the table after reunification in 1990.

But Ritschl says: “With the exception of compensation paid out to forced laborers, Germany did not pay any reparations after 1990 — and neither did it pay off the loans and occupation costs it pressed out of the countries it had occupied during World War II. Not to the Greeks, either.”

Ritschl reckons Germany was “the biggest debt transgressor of the 20th century.”