The recent G8 summit did nothing to relieve the worldwide capitalist crisis that has cost up to 80 million jobs worldwide since 2008. Nor did it help feed the hungry, stop global warming or prevent wars.
This should be no surprise as none of these problems was really on the meeting’s agenda. Its main preoccupation was the financial crisis in Europe and the possibility that Greece will default on bond payments and/or leave the euro zone.
The G8 meeting included the leaders of the seven most powerful imperialist countries -- the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada -- as well as Russia, which, even though it is now a capitalist country, is unwelcome in the inner circle of historical imperialist world powers.
The summit was not aimed at relieving the problems of the billions of people whose economic conditions these imperialists’ actions affect. These leaders represent the bankers, billionaires and generals who run capitalist society -- the top 1 percent of the 1%.
The G8 summit, which had at first been scheduled to take place in Chicago during the same week as the NATO summit, instead moved away from any population center to the woods at Camp David, Md. This gathering of capitalist thieves also reached no significant agreement on their goal: a common strategy to confront Europe’s financial crisis, which impacts the entire world economy.
During the summit U.S. President Barack Obama and French Prime Minister Francois Hollande publicly pressured German Chancellor Angela Merkel to back off from strict austerity. This “austerity” forces all countries in the euro zone to give priority to paying off bonds -- owned mainly by German-based banks. Austerity has stirred a strong fightback from workers in many countries whose standard of living has already been cut to the bone.
U.S. banks own some Greek bonds and hold other investments in exposed French and German banks. The euro zone overall has entered a recession that can drag the U.S. economy down. Thus Washington -- while far from promoting a pro-worker program -- prefers some expansion, as in Obama’s 2009 “stimulus.”
Austerity is extremely unpopular as it immediately increases the suffering of the workers and poor. This does not mean, however, that a stimulus would relieve all the symptoms of the crisis.
At the Greek Consulate in Chicago May 19, 2012. More pics
Background to the crisis
The financial crisis hanging over Europe is not just based on government policies. It is an expression of the world capitalist crisis that exploded in the United States in 2008 and is once again growing more intense in Europe. None of the capitalist world leaders has a means for resolving the crisis and resuming economic growth while staying within capitalist limits. And, of course, none will go beyond those limits.
The current crisis is one of capitalist overproduction. But there’s a difference between this one and past cyclical crises. The increase in productivity in this era of globalized production has become so rapid that now even the upturn phase and new investments fail to revive the job market. Interested readers can find a more detailed explanation of this development in the recent book “Capitalism at a Dead End” by Fred Goldstein.
Europe’s big banks had plenty of capital on hand post-2008, but few profitable industries to invest in. They thus aggressively sought to make loans to governments that would guarantee them. The severe capitalist downturn, however, ruined the economies in Europe’s periphery -- Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain -- and paying back became a question mark.
The English-speaking corporate media, using the countries’ initials, call these countries “the PIIGS.” This is meant as a snide insult to serve the corporate lie that the workers in these countries are lazy and greedy and thereby caused the problem. This slander is a conscious attempt to drive a wedge between the workers in Northern Europe and those in the Mediterranean countries.
The truth is that the German capitalists have beaten down the wages and benefits of workers in Germany over the last 10 years. The resulting increase in productivity -- the result of paying workers less -- was enough to increase profits as they undersold the competition throughout the euro zone.
Because they are now in one currency zone, the countries where wages didn’t drop so much no longer could allow their currency to depreciate to keep their products competitive, as they might have before the euro. Thus companies failed, unemployment grew, tax collections decreased, and it was even harder for them to repay debts, etc.
In Spain, official unemployment is nearly 25 percent. In Greece it’s more than 23 percent, in Portugal and Ireland around 15 percent, and nearly 10 percent in France and Italy.
Political fallout of crisis
Over the past few decades, those running the governments of most Western European countries have alternated between an openly pro-capitalist center-right party and a center-left party with ties to labor unions. Both parties served the capitalist system, including supporting imperialist wars. More and more these parties have become as similar as the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S.
While in office, both these political forces have backed the recent austerity programs. Popular revulsion at austerity has caused voters in recent contests to reject and eject whichever party was in office. In Spain and Portugal, center-right parties replaced “socialist” parties. In France on May 6 the “socialist” Hollande replaced rightist Nicolas Sarkozy. Changes like these also took place in Ireland, Britain, Denmark and many Eastern European countries.
In most of these countries communist parties made relative gains. However, some neo-fascist parties campaigning against immigrants, like the National Front in France, won even larger votes.
In Greece and Italy at the end of 2011, the banks stepped in directly to replace two elected leaders, whose recent loss of support had made them incapable of putting through an unpopular austerity program. Dispensing with the democratic farce of a vote, they appointed “technocrats,” meaning bankers, to rule directly, replacing center-left George Papandreou in Greece and billionaire media magnate Silvio Berlusconi in Italy.
Vote is measure of consciousness
We should remember that, as Friedrich Engels wrote, the vote shows the “level of maturity of the working class,” and does not in itself determine a change in the social system.
The dramatic election on May 6 in Greece, the center of the financial crisis, indicated a big change in consciousness. The center-left PASOK lost two-thirds of its votes, while the center-right New Democracy’s votes were halved. The total for the two went from 77 percent to 32 percent, a loss of 3 million votes from the 5 million cast in 2009. Voters trashed any party that had signed the austerity program imposed earlier by the Troika -- the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which sees no solution to the crisis within the capitalist system, went from 7.5 percent in the 2009 elections to 8.5 percent. The KKE program is to pull Greece out of the European Union and of NATO.
But the big gainer was the left electoral coalition Syriza, made up of the Eurocommunist Synaspismos, which had split from the KKE in 1991; another group that split from PASOK; and some smaller left parties. Coming in second, Syriza nearly quadrupled its votes to 17 percent.
Syriza’s program puts it in the same orbit as most of the euro left parties like Germany’s The Left, France’s Left Front and Portugal’s Left Bloc. These parties support the existence of the EU and the common currency, but ask for policies more favorable to social benefits for the working class. Syriza, for example, calls for NATO’s dissolution but does not promise to withdraw Greece from NATO.
For voters fed up with the capitalists, but not yet ready to vote for a communist party or opt for revolution, these parties often become the first choice. Since no Greek party was able to form a government, a new vote has been scheduled for June 17. Recent polls favor Syriza to come in first; under Greek election rules, it would then win a bonus 50 parliamentary seats. But much can still change.
One can expect enormous pressure and threats from the EU and Germany not only on Greek voters to vote for the traditional parties but also on the leadership of Syriza -- a coalition and not a tested workers’ party -- to submit to the bankers’ demands.
Workers around the world will be watching the events in Greece and in Europe. Wherever possible, they should intervene on the side of the Greek workers.