The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Lesson of Athens

Feb 20, 2012

The streets of Athens were transformed into a battlefield on February 13, as Greek lawmakers, protected by thousands of police, voted on the drastic new austerity plan demanded by the banks and international financial institutions.

Over the past two years, the standard of living of the population has plunged in half. Now additional measures will lower wages in the private sector, as was already done in the public sector; the minimum wage will be cut by 22%, reduced to $9,100 a year with still less for youth; pensions are being scrapped. Several thousand government workers are being laid off. Legal protection against layoffs is almost eliminated.

Three hundred parliamentary deputies – sad puppets serving finance capital – gave their approval to the austerity plan while the population was in revolt. This is what Greek democracy means! Of course, the rest of the “democracies” are just the same! The governments act as the Board of Directors for the capitalist class, and the lawmakers sit there only to approve the decisions of big capital.

Some months ago, they told us that what’s going on in Greece is the fault of the Greeks, including workers, retirees and ordinary people, who “live beyond their means,” so their state wound up overwhelmed with debt up to the neck! After what has happened in Portugal, Spain and Italy, it’s obvious that Greece is not a special case. Greece shows what the future will be in other countries.

The big banks used blackmail against the Greek Parliament, giving them a “choice” they couldn’t refuse: either they impose austerity measures on the population or the financial institutions will no longer lend the Greek state money, and it will go bankrupt.

All the states are pressured by the same blackmail. All are overwhelmed by debt. All shake down their populations to pay the banks greater and greater sums. In every country, interest due the banks becomes the main budget item. “Debt repayment” has become the credo of the entire capitalist class, the justification of a gigantic transfer from the pockets of the poorest to the bank vaults. However, the Greek example shows that the more they impose austerity, the more they lower the purchasing power of the majority of the population, the worse the economic crisis gets, and the less are states able to pay their debts.

In Greece as elsewhere, the overwhelming majority of the population has nothing to do with state debt. The debt should be paid by those for whom the states borrowed it: the banks themselves, the capitalist corporations. But the capitalist class makes sure that the workers, the retirees and the unemployed pay its debt.

Economic life is war, through which the most powerful impose their law on the weakest. Above all, the capitalist exploiters impose their law on the exploited.

By coming out on the streets to reject the austerity plan, the Greek exploited classes gave the response that the majority of their pretended representatives are too cowardly to give. But what’s happening in Athens also shows that it’s not enough to refuse the policy of the capitalists. It’s necessary for the workers to fight for their own policy.

The Greek workers are beginning to realize that, based on capitalist policies, they are condemned to misery and decline. We can hope that they come to realize in the course of the struggle that they must intrude on the management of the economy and impose their own demands.

The crisis imposes a choice on the workers: Who makes economic decisions, them or us? Will it be a handful of financiers, in the sole interest of big capital, or will it be the workers, in the interest of the great majority of society?

The choice posed today to the Greek workers is being posed today to workers of all countries.

It’s necessary for workers everywhere to find and impose their own answer.