Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.
The former right-wing government of Greece lied about the size of the country’s budget deficit. It was not 3.7 percent of gross domestic product but 13.6 percent. And it now looks like the economies of Spain, Ireland, Italy and Portugal are as bad as Greece’s, which is why the euro has lost 20 percent of its value in the last few months. The few hundred billion in bailouts for other faltering European states, like our own bailouts, have only forestalled disaster. This is why the U.S. stock exchange is in free fall and gold is rocketing upward. American banks do not have heavy exposure in Greece, but Greece, as most economists concede, is only the start. Wall Street is deeply invested in other European states, and when the unraveling begins the foundations of our own economy will rumble and crack as loudly as the collapse in Athens. The corporate overlords will demand that we too impose draconian controls and cuts or see credit evaporate. They have the money and the power to hurt us. There will be more unemployment, more personal and commercial bankruptcies, more foreclosures and more human misery. And the corporate state, despite this suffering, will continue to plunge us deeper into debt to make war. It will use fear to keep us passive. We are being consumed from the inside out. Our economy is as rotten as the economy in Greece. We too borrow billions a day to stay afloat. We too have staggering deficits, which can never be repaid. Heed the dire rhetoric of European leaders.
“The euro is in danger,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers last week as she called on them to approve Germany’s portion of the bailout plan. “If we do not avert this danger, then the consequences for Europe are incalculable, and then the consequences beyond Europe are incalculable.”
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Beyond Europe means us. The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the current government of George Papandreou, did what the Republicans did under George W. Bush. They looted taxpayer funds to enrich their corporate masters and bankrupt the country. They stole hundreds of millions of dollars from individual retirement and pension accounts slowly built up over years by citizens who had been honest and industrious. They used mass propaganda to make the population afraid of terrorists and surrender civil liberties, including habeas corpus. And while Bush and Karamanlis, along with the corporate criminal class they abetted, live in unparalleled luxury, ordinary working men and women are told they must endure even more pain and suffering to make amends. It is feudal rape. And there has to be a point when even the American public—which still believes the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to success—will realize it has been had.
We have seen these austerity measures before. Latin Americans, like the Russians, were forced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to gut social services, end subsidies on basic goods and food, and decimate the income levels of the middle class—the foundation of democracy—in the name of fiscal responsibility. Small entrepreneurs, especially farmers, were wiped out. State industries were sold off by corrupt government officials to capitalists for a fraction of their value. Utilities and state services were privatized.
What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will defy them. It is up to us. Barack Obama is simply the latest face that masks the corporate state. His administration serves corporate interests, not ours. Obama, like Goldman Sachs or Citibank, does not want the public to see how the Federal Reserve Bank acts as a private account and ATM machine for Wall Street at our expense. He, too, has helped orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. He serves our imperial wars, refuses to restore civil liberties, and has not tamed our crippling deficits. His administration gutted regulatory agencies that permitted BP to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic swamp. The refusal of Obama to intervene in a meaningful way to save the gulf’s ecosystem and curtail the abuses of the natural gas and oil corporations is not an accident. He knows where power lies. BP and its employees handed more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
We are facing the collapse of the world’s financial system. It is the end of globalization. And in these final moments the rich are trying to get all they can while there is still time. The fusion of corporatism, militarism and internal and external intelligence agencies—much of their work done by private contractors—has given these corporations terrifying mechanisms of control. Think of it, as the Greeks do, as a species of foreign occupation. Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.
Dwight Macdonald laid out the consequences of a culture such as ours, where the waging of war was “the normal mode of existence.” The concept of perpetual war, which eluded the theorists behind the 19th and early 20th century reform and social movements, including Karl Marx, has left social reformers unable to deal with this effective mechanism of mass control. The old reformists had limited their focus to internal class struggle and, as Macdonald noted, never worked out “an adequate theory of the political significance of war.” Until that gap is filled, Macdonald warned, “modern socialism will continue to have a somewhat academic flavor.”
Macdonald detailed in his 1946 essay “The Root Is Man” the marriage between capitalism and permanent war. He despaired of an effective resistance until the permanent war economy, and the mentality that went with it, was defeated. Macdonald, who was an anarchist, saw that the Marxists and the liberal class in Western democracies had both mistakenly placed their faith for human progress in the goodness of the state. This faith, he noted, was a huge error. The state, whether in the capitalist United States or the communist Soviet Union, eventually devoured its children. And it did this by using the organs of mass propaganda to keep its populations afraid and in a state of endless war. It did this by insisting that human beings be sacrificed before the sacred idol of the market or the utopian worker’s paradise. The war state provides a constant stream of enemies, whether the German Hun, the Bolshevik, the Nazi, the Soviet agent or the Islamic terrorist. Fear and war, Macdonald understood, was the mechanism that let oligarchs pillage in the name of national security.
“Modern totalitarianism can integrate the masses so completely into the political structure, through terror and propaganda, that they become the architects of their own enslavement,” he wrote. “This does not make the slavery less, but on the contrary more— a paradox there is no space to unravel here. Bureaucratic collectivism, not capitalism, is the most dangerous future enemy of socialism.”
Macdonald argued that democratic states had to dismantle the permanent war economy and the propaganda that came with it. They had to act and govern according to the non-historical and more esoteric values of truth, justice, equality and empathy. Our liberal class, from the church and the university to the press and the Democratic Party, by paying homage to the practical dictates required by hollow statecraft and legislation, has lost its moral voice. Liberals serve false gods. The belief in progress through war, science, technology and consumption has been used to justify the trampling of these non-historical values. And the blind acceptance of the dictates of globalization, the tragic and false belief that globalization is a form of inevitable progress, is perhaps the quintessential illustration of Macdonald’s point. The choice is not between the needs of the market and human beings. There should be no choice. And until we break free from serving the fiction of human progress, whether that comes in the form of corporate capitalism or any other utopian vision, we will continue to emasculate ourselves and perpetuate needless human misery. As the crowds of strikers in Athens understand, it is not the banks that are important but the people who raise children, build communities and sustain life. And when a government forgets whom it serves and why it exists, it must be replaced.
“The Progressive makes History the center of his ideology,” Macdonald wrote in “The Root Is Man.” “The Radical puts Man there. The Progressive’s attitude is optimistic both about human nature (which he thinks is good, hence all that is needed is to change institutions so as to give this goodness a chance to work) and about the possibility of understanding history through scientific method. The Radical is, if not exactly pessimistic, at least more sensitive to the dual nature; he is skeptical about the ability of science to explain things beyond a certain point; he is aware of the tragic element in man’s fate not only today but in any collective terms (the interests of Society or the Working Class); the Radical stresses the individual conscience and sensibility. The Progressive starts off from what is actually happening; the Radical starts off from what he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is ‘on his side.’ The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased; but he is quite stubborn about following ‘what ought to be’ rather than ‘what is.’ ”
This article was first published on Truthdig.com.