'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, June 06, 2011

Another Coup in Greece? 

Just over a week ago, German and Turkish media reported the following:

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency warned in a report that the tough austerity measures and the dire situation could escalate and even lead to a military coup, according to a report by Germany’s popular daily Bild.

According to the CIA report, ongoing street protests in crisis-hit Greece could turn into escalated violence and a rebellion and the Greek government could lose control, said Bild. The newspaper said the CIA report talks of a possible military coup if the situation becomes more serious and uncontrolled.

While by and large unreported in the US and much of Europe, there is a massive, growing protest movement against even more harsh austerity measures being imposed upon Greece by the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank, as indicated by this account of protests in Greece yesterday:

A crowd whose size is difficult to even estimate gathered in central Athens to protest against the crisis and the Memorandum tonight. The call to a pan-european call of action saw more than 100,000 (some estimates give much higher numbers) flooding Syntagma square and many central nearby avenues. In contrast to previous gatherings, police presence was much higher, with fencing erected around the parliament building and double, or triple rows of riot police around it.

The city is now building up for the General Strike of June 15th, which is also the next date of action announced at Syntagma square. Both mobilisations are aimed against the new agreement between the government and the troika (IMF/EU/ECB) which is planned to be voted at parliament on the morning of the 15th. The general assembly of Syntagma square has already called for a blocking of the parliament from the night of the 14th. In addition to the fencing installed around the parliament, a police water canon has also appeared nearby.

Similar demonstrations took place in Thessaloniki, Patras, Heraklion, Larisa, Volos and many other Greek cities. In the Cretan city of Chania, fascists bearing arms appeared in the gathering, in a failed attempt to provoke the gathered crowd.

People are protesting a new financial bailout plan that places the people of Greece at the mercy of transnational institutions, virtually eradicating any semblence of Greek sovereignty and local political participation:

Representatives of the European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) signaled Friday that more bailout money would be forthcoming for Greece next month, after the Greek government assured them it would implement billions of euros in cuts and privatizations.

The EC, ECB, and IMF said that the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou had agreed to sell off 50 billion euros in state assets by 2015, and that Athens had also agreed to set up an independently managed privatization agency to oversee the sale.

While the press release did not provide details, the wording implies that the privatization and sell-off of large portions of the Greek state will take place under the control of international banks and financial institutions. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the Eurogroup forum of euro-zone finance ministers, made similar proposals last month.

The group, which concluded a four-week mission to Athens on Friday, added that the Greek government's proposal includes a significant downsizing of public sector employment, restructuring or closure of public entities, and cuts to social programs.

In a post written prior to the acceptance of the bailout terms by the Greek government, Yves Smith of naked capitalism explained why it is likely to fail, with this remarkable commentary:

Another reason this rescue is not a rescue is that one of its major elements, that of stripping Greece of assets, is unlikely to raise the €50 billion expected. The demands here are astonishing. Greek premier George Papandreou agreed to only €5 billion of asset sales a year ago; the best state owned assets are expected to fetch at best €15 billion. Trust me, if that’s all you can get from the best properties, anything else that can be cobbled together is likely to be worth at most half that in toto. So it’s not hard to foresee that the receipts from the infrastructure sales are likely to fall short by about half.

And the notion that the invading banker hoards are going to supervise tax collection is sure to mean that they will make certain that they are first in getting tax receipts. As various readers have pointed out, lower middle and middle class Greeks have taxes withheld from wages; it’s the rich and the participants in the black economy that escape. It is far fetched to think that foreign involvement will improve matters; indeed, I’d expect everyone who can to operate out of the black economy as an act of rebellion.

Greece looks to be on its way to be under the boot of bankers just as formerly free small Southern farmers were turned into debtcroppers after the US Civil War. Deflationary policies had left many with mortgage payments that were increasingly difficult to service. Many fell into crop lien peonage. Farmers were cash starved and pledged their crops to merchants who then acted in an abusive parental role, being given lists of goods needed to operate the farm and maintain the farmer’s family and doling out as they saw fit. The merchants not only applied interest to the loans, but further sold the goods to farmers at 30% or higher markups over cash prices. The system was operated, by design, so that the farmer’s crop would never pay him out of his debts (the merchant as the contracted buyer could pay whatever he felt like for the crop; the farmer could not market it to third parties). This debt servitude eventually led to rebellion in the form of the populist movement.

Of course, there is also another historical parallel, one that should not be readily dismissed given the contempt that many Greeks have for the military and the police, and that is, of course, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Meanwhile, over at Counterpunch, Michael Hudson provides the background of this crisis, most importantly its origins as a consequence of the tax evasion policies of the 1967-1974 Greek junta and subsequent reliance on the issuance of debt for Greece by transnational financial institutions to maintain the country's infrastructure.

Interestingly, some Marxists do apparently believe that Greece may be on the verge of a revolutionary situation:

Yesterday's gathering in Athens, apart from its impressive size, had many new elements. The awkwardness and blind rage that characterized the first days of the movement have given way to enthusiasm. The masses have acquired a sense of confidence through the collective show of strength. While the early days were focused on the idea of a silent angry people, yesterday the mood had changed. The people shouted ingenious slogans against the government and the Troika, and everywhere groups of people were spontaneously formed in which everyone wanted to express an opinion on the movement and on the next steps to be taken.

At the same time, in the most advanced part of the protesters, especially in the youth, an interest to seek a political solution for the next day was evident. This explains the enormous interest in participating in the People's Assembly of Syntagma Square, which was attended by 10,000 people, patiently waiting to participate, although very few were able to speak.

From 9.30 pm onwards, the density of the protest made it impossible even to approach the site of the assembly. The predominant element in the meeting was the spontaneous opinions voiced by ordinary workers, unemployed and young people expressing the need to continue the struggle.

Many proposals were made: to besiege the parliament on the day the austerity measures are put to the vote; to fight to set up popular meetings in every neighborhood; to put into practice the decision of the People's Assembly for an indefinite general political strike; to fight the media propaganda with an organized campaign in the neighborhoods and squares. On one point all were agreed: next Sunday there will be a million people in the streets of Athens!

From here, it sounds a little hyperbolic, although we should not, as I already mentioned, dismiss it. The CIA certainly hasn't, as this scenario has prompted it to suggest the possibility of a military coup if uncontrollable unrest erupts when the Greek Parliament attempts to approve the agreement. But there is another reason why we should be fearful about the prospects for a crackdown in Greece. In Chile, the US, through the CIA, corporations like the International Telephone and Telegraph and labor unions like those affiliated with the AFL-CIO, sought to instigate a coup in Chile for economic reasons, not because of violent instability. Indeed, the US deliberately intensified pre-existing economic problems and social conflict within Chile in order to push rightists and high ranking officers within the Chilean military to forcibly remove Allende and subsequently destroy democratic institutions and the power of the working class.

The junta, lead by General Augusto Pinochet, created a dictatorship for the purpose of disempowering the populace for the benefit of capitalists, or, as liberals would say, investors, both within and without Chile. Social welfare programs for low and middle income people were slashed, while generous subsidies were provided for investors willing to purchase state assets. Unions were domesticated under legal restrictions that persist to this day. Radical protest was ruthlessly suppressed, with many leftists either killed or driven from the country. Land reform was, of course, reversed to the extent that it had been implemented at all. Chile thus became the laboratory for neoliberal economic experimentation that was thereafter implemented throughout most of the Americas.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In fact, it sounds a lot like the increasingly severe austerity measures that the EU, the ECB and the IMF have compelled the Greek government to accept over the last year and a half. In such a situation, the restoration of workplace discipline is essential. Capitalists, or, investors, if you will, can't recover their profits if the populace insist upon protesting the measures through job actions, strikes, protests and industrial sabotage. In this instance, the bankers of Germany, and especially France, can't collect their loans, plus interest, if the workers of Greece refuse to work more hours for less pay with increased productivity. Hence, the true threat of a coup lies, not so much in the spasmodic violence associated with protests against the bailout, but, rather, in the economic necessity for strict measures to force the populace to work under conditions imposed by the government and its foreign allies. Needless to say, such measures are much more easily imposed through a military dictatorship than through an obstensibly democratic political system weakened by the economic crisis. So, the leaked release of the CIA report may actually be an act of black propaganda, designed to obscure the real reasons for the coup if it should happen.

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