Imagine for a moment the following headlines:
Churchill resigns in face of postwar economic crisis and British debt. Keynes to be unelected PM.
Alan Greenspan moves into White House, elections put off as “technicians” try to solve deficit after Clinton resignation.
European Union to announce successor to Margaret Thatcher, Pound rises on overnight markets on the news.
FDR forced out by British and French investors, Andrew Mellon named President
Or even better:
Washington resigns, Hamilton to become president. French and Dutch creditors acclaim “progress” in resolving American debts.
The very absurdity of such headlines underlines the reaction the world, Europe, and the citizens of Greece and Italy especially, should be expected to have in the face of what has just transpired in the past two weeks: coups d’etat have replaced democratically elected governments in two Western European countries with unelected leaders appointed by foreign powers.
That the two new leaders – Papademos in Greece and Monti in Italy – are bankers, indeed both are former Goldman Sachs executives, only makes clear the connection between neoliberalism and the need to suppress democracy so brilliantly demonstrated in Naomi Klein’s book Shock Doctrine.
As Klein demonstrated in her book, the use of crisis, indeed the wilful creation of a state of emergency, allows for the making of a state of exception (to use Giorgio Agamben’s phrase). That is, in a political context, a situation in which constitutional niceties can be thrown overboard in favour of an undemocratic executive power. Nevertheless, even if formally sanctioned by parliamentary approval, elected parliaments cannot shift their responsibility to govern on behalf of the people to unelected irresponsible parties at a whim.
The crisis of the Euro is what the Euro is for. That is the key to understanding what has just happened. The Euro allows capital to exercise control over the working population of Europe, especially finance capital which now governs on behalf of capital as a whole by making it difficult for a democratically determined fiscal and social policy to exist. Capital creates the iron cage that entraps democracy by creating a ‘crisis’. Klein gives numerous examples in her book showing how this process has happened in a multitude of countries over the best part of the last half century.
It is now the turn of Southern Europe to undergo all the injustices and repressions of an IMF structural adjustment program (even if from a starting point many light years away from the realities that people in Africa or Latin America had to suffer throughout the 1980s). What is so critical to see is that the democratic heritage of Europe must go to the wall if these policies of austerity, dismantling of welfare state guarantees, privatization of all public services and crushing of living standards, are to be realised. Nor is it so different in the US, where the ‘shock doctrine’ came this past summer in the form of the ‘debt ceiling crisis’ created before the population’s very eyes. This crisis allowed both parties to set up the Congressional ‘Super Committee’ making automatic cuts in what the Washington elite insist on calling ‘entitlement programs’ ie: Social Security and Medicare. Despite the fact that the former has a $2.4 trillion surplus and the latter costs one-tenth the administrative costs of any private health insurance, and that neither is part of the regular annual budget, these are details conveniently ignored by politicians and the press.
Similarly, here in Europe our hard-won rights are under attack by the new so-called ‘technicians’ (read bankers). Already this weekend in Portugal the same democracy-in-receivership system was averted by the government’s adoption of a program ending the 13th and 14th months’ pay, standard practice in many countries including Italy, the abolition of which means roughly a 10-15% pay cut for most workers in the country. What this has to do with ending a presumed deficit or public debt crisis would be unclear were we to take seriously the official reasons for this crisis, since the lower the pay of the average worker, the lower the taxes will be and, therefore, the worse the deficit and public debt. But in fact the crisis and use of debt have as their goal precisely the eliminations of workers’ rights and income bases. In Italy, profits are to be made privatising nearly all public services – the dream of Milton Friedman realised. This in a country that just months ago handed Berlusconi and the (unelected) EU Commission a major defeat in a referendum in which the privatisation of water, mandated by the EU, was crushed by popular vote. The package of ‘reforms’ that the Berlusconi government was forced to pass by the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF (what the Greeks call the “Troika”) and by French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel, neither of whom can win elections in their own countries anymore, included granting the central government in Rome the power to force the privatisation of any public service in any local municipality that refuses to liberalise such services. For all we know, schools, buses, electricity, hospitals, may all in the near future be put up for sale. Making Berlusconi’s government pass this package was in order to clear the incoming Monti government of responsibility for this piece of dirty work.
Berlusconi’s departure is surely a good thing in itself, but those who cheer his political downfall by such undemocratic means should think again. No one should be supporting the end of an elected government, even a bad one, by a bankers’ coup d’etat. No one should be uncritical of the two heads of state in France and Germany demanding that Prime Minister Papandreou step down because he wanted to hold a referendum on whether to go ahead with yet another round of painful policies, as if Greece were a colony of its supposed equal partners in Europe. The most minimal sense of what democracy is supposed to be about should have led the whole continent to be shocked this past weekend at the fall of two governments and their replacement with the direct representatives of the very financial institutions that have created these manufactured crises. Recent weeks have seen the most devastating setback for democracy in Europe since the fall of France in June 1940. And like that event, these twin coups d’etat, and those that are already in the works for Spain, Portugal, Ireland or France itself, call for Resistance. Massive Resistance on at least the scale of what the Greek people have been carrying out for nearly two years now. And beyond that, this attack on popular sovereignty calls for the creation of a new social and political order: one that is based on the same phenomenon that the whole world saw in Tahrir Square this early Spring, and which is the basis of the Declaration of the 99% that has called for a national convention of delegates, which would be authorized to call the national government in the US to resign if it fails to carry out the institutional changes demanded by the Occupy movement. That phenomenon is the retaking, into their own collective hands, the sovereignty of the people. Call it Rousseau’s ‘General Will’, call it Negri’s ‘Constituent Power’, call it the Zapatista ‘Exercising power, not seizing it’, call it ‘direct democracy’, call it Trotsky’s dual power, call it what you like. It remains the dialectical opposite of what we are seeing cheered today by the business press and the elites around the world.
So here we are at the end of a year of miracles, of moves and countermoves, of revolutions and counter-revolutions: the end of democracy by finance capital directly ruling on its own behalf, for the 1%, versus direct democracy, the direct exercise of power by the 99% on their own behalf.
Representative government has always been a class compromise, a halfway house, a transition stage to one or the other forms, as Marx pointed out in his writings on the Paris Commune. Something is going to end after all in 2012, but it won’t be the world.Tags: Europe
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This post was written by Steven Colatrella