In the UK this month austerity has revealed itself to be in the mode of naked class war. Monday began with welfare reforms, the introduction of the notorious bedroom tax and reductions in the access to Legal Aid. These attacks will be followed in the coming weeks by the replacing of disability living allowance with a personal independence payment policed by Atos, the reduction in the 50p tax rate (providing tax cuts to the rich) and the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit scheme. Combined with other aspects of late capitalism (from food prices to housing shortages) the reality of life in austerity Britain is uglier than it has been for some time.
With textbook ideological manoeuvring these assaults have been accompanied by a rhetoric designed to divide the working classes between “workers and shirkers.” To the chorus of the right wing press, statements, such as this one by Liam Fox or this from Iain Duncan Smith, ultimately aim to crush the possibility of an organized resistance. Most revealing this week has been efforts by the right wing to frame the horrific Philpott manslaughter as a result of ‘benefit dependency.’ Almost beyond belief, this story’s beginnings in the Daily Mail and right wing blogs were reinforced yesterday with this statement from the grubbiest man on earth: Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
According to the BBC, Madrid is expected to propose £39bn ($50bn; £31bn) worth of public sector cuts, tax raises and structural liberalizations. Most demonstrators, indeed I imagine, most people in Spain, believe that the new austerity measures are economically suicidal for the people. As Costas Lapavitsas point out in Crisis in the Eurozone, Spanish unemployment “has risen faster than in other countries once the crisis of 2007-9 materialised.” It “seems to expland rapidly in Spain at the first sign of economic difficulty” (p.14). El Pais reports that according to a study by the Association of Temporary Employment Agencies [AGETT], the number of long-term unemployed has quadrupled since the crisis began five years ago, topping 5.69 million in June 2012. Furthermore, the rate of joblessnes at the end of June was 24.6%, making it "the highest in the European Union and more than double the average in the EU." And it's no surprise that the majority of the demonstraters were youths as the rate for workers under 25 is over 50%.
"At the root of this bad economics is a misreading of the causes of the crisis. Greece's problem is the same as Portugal's and Spain's: a flawed monetary union that has split Europe into core and periphery. Peripheral competitiveness has been destroyed, and the periphery has accumulated vast private and public debts – owed to eurozone banks – which will probably never be repaid."
In a recent piece for In These Times Slavoj Žižek reflects on the outcome of the Greek elections on the 17th of June, analysing how Syriza, the radical left coalition, came close to smashing the entire set of the European Union’s crockery. Dismissing the EU’s austerity measures as nonsense, Žižek says:
So why does Brussels impose these plans? What matters in contemporary capitalism is that agents act upon their putative beliefs about future prospects, regardless of whether they really believe in those prospects. And, as we also all know, the true aim of these rescue measures is not to save Greece, but to save the European banks.
To illustrate the mistake of enacting austerity measures as the main strategy to combat the crisis, Paul Krugman often compares them to the medieval cure of blood-letting. That’s a nice metaphor that should be radicalized even further. The European financial doctors, who are themselves not sure about how the medicine works, are using the Greeks as test rabbits and letting their blood, not the blood of their own countries. There is no blood-letting for the great German and French banks—on the contrary, they are getting continuous and enormous transfusions.
In The Progressive, Costas Lapavitsas, author of the forthcoming Crisis in the Eurozone, elaborates on the results from the recent Greek election as indicative of the advent of progressive political forces to shape not just Greece, but the rest of the continent against "the poisonous brew of austerity, privatization, and liberalization." Lapavitsas then provides an overview of the sociopolitical makeup of the Greek population to deduce why the political initiative and spirit has alighted on Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left. The electoral success of Syriza points to an anti-austerity program that will soon catch on to Portugal and Spain if properly adhered to:
If Syriza sticks to its radical program, calls for unity among the left, and presents itself as a reliable party of government, it can emerge as the largest party in Greek politics. It will then have the initiative in forming a coalition government of anti-bailout forces. On this basis, Greece might at last break out of the vice of austerity that is currently destroying economy and society. Such an event could propel forward all progressive forces across Europe that are already mobilizing against austerity.
Lapavitsas's new book, Crisis in the Eurozone, out from Verso this September, is a radical call to break up the Eurozone to thwart counterproductive and destructive European austerity.
Read the full article at The Progressive.