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Issue #1694      July 22, 2015

Culture & Life

Greece – victim of German imperialism – again

After five years of crippling austerity that has left Greece’s economy in ruins, and despite an overwhelming anti-austerity vote in a referendum in early July, the country’s supposedly “left-wing” government submitted to a raft of outrageous economic demands imposed on it by the European central banks and the governments of the EU. The so-called reforms include requirements that the Greek parliament pass new severe austerity laws within days to raise taxes, privatise public assets and cut back on pensions.

The “deal” was welcomed by capitalist governments everywhere, ostensibly because it saved the Eurozone and prevented Greece from descending into chaos. In reality it demonstrated once again that under conditions of imperialism, banks not governments control national economies. It also did something else: it marked a new stage in German imperialism’s unceasing efforts to expand its power and influence.

Not that the “reforms” forced on Greece were demanded by Germany alone. France backed up the German banks as did Britain and the USA. But it was German Prime Minister Angela Merkel on behalf of German imperialism who called the tune, a fact that was not lost on the global anti-austerity movement. In fact, the draconian nature of the austerity demands handed to the Greek government at the “negotiations” in Brussels ignited a global backlash against Germany, Angela Merkel and Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Sandro Maccarrone, a physics teacher in Barcelona, Spain, tweeted: “The Eurogroup proposal is a covert coup d’etat against the Greek people. #ThisIsACoup.” Within hours his newly-minted hashtag had been used nearly 200,000 times. #ThisIsACoup quickly became the top trending hashtag on Twitter worldwide, attached to tens of thousands of angry comments denouncing Germany’s aggressive demands. It not only became number one in Greece, but also in Germany.

“This is not an agreement but an outrageous imposition on the Greek people,” said Tim Jones, economist at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates for debt cancellation worldwide. “If implemented, it will continue the five-year long crisis in the Greek economy since the first disastrous bailout of European banks in 2010 for another decade or more.”

And Nick Dearden, of Global Justice Now, said the circumstances surrounding the negotiations “rather resemble the imperial politics of the 19th century. Is it so unthinkable to put the rights and livelihoods of ordinary people ahead of threatening the interests of the banks?”

Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, is all about exporting capital, about investing it abroad. Consequently, it is also about subjugating other countries, conquering and colonising them, subverting their institutions and oppressing their people.

Germany did not become a unified country until late in the 19th century. As a result, it was late becoming an imperialist power. By the time it did, most of the world had already been seized as colonies by its rivals (Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Japan, the Netherlands and the USA). German imperialism was largely excluded from control of global raw materials, markets and trade. The First World War was the inevitable consequence.

Germany attempted to conquer the Balkans, the Ukraine and Russia. After revolution broke out in Russia, Germany’s imperialist rivals brought the World War to an end in order to prevent the spread of revolution. They joined forces in attacking revolutionary Russia but were ultimately forced to abandon their “intervention”.

In the economic chaos that followed the First World War, and then the Great Depression only ten years later, German capitalism found itself challenged by a militant organised working class lead by the Communist Party under Ernst Thälmann. Fearing that Germany would follow Russia and opt for socialism, Germany’s capitalists turned to fascism – to Hitler’s Nazis – as their saviours from Red revolution.

Having secured their base, Germany’s imperialists once again turned their attention to conquest, forcing a new World War on the planet, seizing the Balkans, Western Europe and Scandinavia before once again invading Ukraine and attempting the conquest of the whole of Russia. Once again they were defeated, although at great cost, but after the War US imperialism – now dominant over its imperialist rivals – helped German capitalism to revive and thrive as a welcome ally in opposition to socialism.

It was this revived German imperialism that initiated the break-up of previously-socialist Yugoslavia, immediately supported by the USA and Britain via NATO. More recently, Germany has played a major role in the machinations in Ukraine (along with NATO allies Britain and the US, of course).

The crushing of Greece, and its total subjugation to the EU, dominated as the latter is by Germany, is a demonstration of power by Germany’s financial institutions. Once again their rivals have been manoeuvred into supporting them, but such blatantly aggressive policies inevitably provoke criticism.

Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate US economist, wrote in The New York Times: “This Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag #ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief.

“Substantive surrender isn’t enough for Germany, which wants regime change and total humiliation – and there’s a substantial faction that just wants to push Greece out, and would more or less welcome a failed state as a caution for the rest... There are only terrible alternatives at this point, thanks to the fecklessness of the Greek government and, far more important, the utterly irresponsible campaign of financial intimidation waged by Germany and its allies.”

Meanwhile, in Greece itself, the German demands have caused divisions within the ruling Syriza party. An editorial on the Iskra website, which reflects the views of Syriza’s anti-austerity members, denounced the agreement as imposing “social enslavement” on the country.

Although a significant number of members of the Syriza party voted against the deal in the Greek parliament, Prime Minister Tsipras’ carried the day and the deal surrendering the country’s sovereignty to the European (mainly German) banks was approved. Triumphant imperialist media are busy advising him, in the words of the Bloomberg news service, “to change his administration and clear out hardliners and radicals from his party.”

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