Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Misframing the Greek protest

By Albena Azmanova

The calls these days to support the Greek people’s struggle against austerity are in abundance. The Campaign for Democracy group has issued one such petition.

I signed this petition, as I do support the Greek people’s fight for social justice and regaining some control of their destiny. But what a pity this is being framed as a “struggle against AUSTERITY”. It implies that the goal of the protest is a life of indulgence (or at least of non-austere, benevolent capitalism), which makes a mockery out of the Greeks’ legitimate quest.

There will hardly be an escape from austerity even if the country’s international creditors cancel its debt. But more importantly, we all need to, and can, embrace austerity and share it, as the manic economic growth of global capitalism is unsustainable and toxic for both people and nature.

There is a danger that, as the left makes anti-austerity its new grand cause of mobilization for justice, this derails us into reinventing capitalism rather than seeking an alternative.  Maybe the Greeks under the Syriza government will finally spawn that socio-economic model that delivers the life of simple living and high thinking their forefathers in ancient Greece championed as the formula of the good life. Hurray for austerity for all!

And yet the discourse of anti-austerity might be misframing the problem in quite another way -- in the opposite direction, as it does not capture the humanitarian disaster that Greek people are living. As the new Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has argued, we need to save European capitalism as a matter of emergency, because "Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come."(http://www.thetoc.gr/eng/people/article/why-erratic-marxist-yanis-varoufakis-wants-to-save-european-capitalism). So, unless we save capitalism now, resurrecting the social capitalism of the now moribund welfare state, the rising tides of racism and fascism will overtake Europe, which would  hardly produce socialism. Getting rid of the neoliberal politics of austerity in which 'austerity' is a polite term for eliminating people's livelihoods, is the step in the right direction -- away from the abyss.