This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 6 July 2015 contain two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are is credited.
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- Greece: What is the problem and what is Syriza’s solution?
- Why immigrants are forced to flee to Europe – and how European governments throw aside law and morality to stop them: The case of Eritrea
Greece: What is the problem and what is Syriza’s solution?
6 July 2015. A World to Win News Service. While awaiting an as yet unpredictable denouement to the Greek financial crisis that would shed light on the future, we are reposting a short version of earlier article (AWTWNS20150126), designed to be distributed at rallies and protests,which focuses on the causes of this debacle and the possible revolutionary outcome.
Syriza claims to represent a solution to the hardships that Greeks and many other Europeans have endured since the 2008 world financial crisis. “Far left” and ultra-right parties in Spain and France see its victory as heralding their own future electoral triumph. But we have to define the problem correctly to judge Syriza’s proposed solution.
Largely because of the late, weak and foreign-dominated development of capitalism in Greece, it has long been economically and politically subordinated to the biggest capitalist powers. Much of its ruling class, especially concentrated in shipping and banking, has been particularly intertwined with big-power capital, especially the UK and Germany, at various times and in various combinations, and the U.S.
The integration of Greece into the European and international market, and especially the international capital market, accelerating after Greece’s entry into the eurozone in 2001, brought economic growth. Yet this process and its particular forms in Greece laid the basis for the particularly Greek severity of the later crisis. Government spending was to a large extent sustained by loans. The prosperity of the Greek economy actually weakened it structurally. Imports towered over exports. The big trade deficit, too, required loans to bridge the gap. That growth itself was fueled by foreign investment, including in the form of private bank loans. German and French banks lent the Greek government money spent to import goods from Germany and buy war planes and other arms from France and the U.S. (the latter amounting to 40 percent of Greek imports in the last decade).
Basically, Greece was subsidizing the profitability of German, French and U.S. business. Further these loans were a form of investment which themselves yielded profits for capital based in other countries. The German government, representing German finance capital and its capitalist ruling class, hypocritically accuses Greece of becoming addicted to foreign credits. They don’t admit that foreign finance capital became addicted to lending to Greece.
Greece already had big debts when it joined the eurozone, but its books were cooked to conceal the situation, not because of “corruption” but a consensus among all the big powers—the monopoly capitalist ruling classes and their governments—not to forgo the profits that could be gained by extending even more loans to Greece. Nor was this just a question of greed. None could afford not to grab when their rivals were grabbing profits to inject into their own economies. This pyramid scheme – debt paid for by borrowing and expanding debt – was a bonanza for foreign and Greek finance capital alike. High risks meant higher “spreads”—higher potential profits for those who bought into it.
In 2008, when a financial meltdown swept the globalized economy, Greece faced predatory “bailouts” so that its government could continue making payments on its debts to foreign and domestic banks and other creditors. Greece was like a poor family faced with loansharks who lend you money so that you can pay them back. You end up owing them even more money – and they threaten to break your legs.
In exchange for these loans, the gangster “troika” formed in 2010 by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank imposed restrictions on Greek government spending that sent the Greek economy into a tailspin. Its economy shrank by a quarter. Salaries and pensions were slashed or simply went unpaid. Millions of jobs were lost. Hospitals and other vital public facilities closed. Many people could no longer afford even electricity. They shivered in the winter and survived on charity food or by their wits. To call this “austerity” doesn’t begin to describe the hardships.
Meanwhile foreign financial companies fattened and Greek shipping companies and the large land holdings of the Greek Orthodox Church continued to enjoy tax exemptions..
If the situation is understood in this light, then even without trying to predict future how events will unfold it is clear that Tsipras’s proposals (chiefly negotiating a debt reduction and making more government spending possible) cannot bring about a basic resolution to the situation. Regardless of whether or not Greece leaves the euro zone – which Tsipras says he does not want – Greece is structurally dependent on its relations with capital based in the world’s biggest powers and the imperialist world economy as a whole.
Further, Tsipras’s proposed continuing links with the EU and Nato are meant to keep Greece firmly on the dominating side of the Mediterranean. This is a reactionary nationalist, politically and morally unacceptable position. Greece has been a major conduit for imperialist financial domination of the Middle East and now especially the Balkans. These so-called “revolutionaries” are saying: Greece should fight for a better place at the table where the imperialists are devouring the world’s people.
This reactionary nationalism explains why Syriza formed a governing coalition with the Greek Orthodox, Greek-chauvinist, immigrant-bashing ANEL (the Independent Greeks party) and gave it the key ministry of defense. That nationalism also explains the apparently paradoxical fact that Syriza is being hailed by both rightist and “leftist” parties in imperialist France and Spain, parties whose programe is not to overthrow the monopoly capitalist ruling classes in those countries but to bring back the social welfare schemes and living standards of the days when imperialism seemed to be thriving in Europe, even while crushing much of the rest of the world.
Greece’s situation is one concentration of the global contradiction between the severe imbalances built up between the financial system – and its expectations of future profits – and the accumulation of capital, that is, the structures and actual production of profit based on exploitation of wage-labour. How can capitalism in Greece unzip itself from the global, competition-driven profit system – which is not Syriza’s intention anyway? How could radical change in Greece – or anywhere else, for that matter – take place except as part of a country by country but ultimately worldwide revolution whose ultimate aim is the abolition of all exploitation and oppressive social relations of class society?
This would require a new kind of state, born of a revolutionary movement with the material power to shatter the state apparatus of the capitalist ruling class and then entirely reorganize the economy step by step, creating an economic, social and political system where the people could actually and increasingly have say over their lives, which is not at all the case in Greece, with or without Syriza. The European ruling classes were frightened by the mass tumult and rejection of the measures imposed on Greeks. A revolutionary movement in Greece and especially a revolution could help transform the regional and even world political situation, which in turn would make a breakthrough in Greece more possible to achieve and sustain. Really radical change in Greece requires standing with the world’s people against the world imperialist system.
When brutal mass impoverishment first hit Greece, some commentators predicted that would spell the end of “democracy” there. They feared that a political system based on elections (and the whole traditional state apparatus that implies) could not survive if millions of people no longer believed in it. Syriza’s electoral triumph represents a rebirth of false hope in the political and economic system that brought Greece to where it is today. Reformists in other European countries and elsewhere are placing their own hopes for a share in power, or at least government, on bolstering the illusion that radical problems can be solved by reformist means. By calling for an adjustment to the system and not a revolutionary rupture, Syriza is serving as a main channel for people’s rage in Greece at the moment.
The experience of the elected, self-proclaimed socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile, overthrown by a U.S.-organized military coup in 1973, showed how raising hopes that a government is in no position to deliver on, imperialist economic pressure that a populist government has no plan to stand up to, and the resulting divisions among the people who had united around it or accepted it, can pave the way for kind of fascism Greece has known before. Yet the failure of the old order in Greece, the discrediting of its institutions and the collapse of the daily routine that limits people’s horizons, could provide conditions for rapid revolutionary advance – if this situation is really used to do that.
Fostering hope in the possibility of repairing and patching up the existing system is part of the problem, not the solution. Within the political hodgepodge that is Syriza and among its supporters internationally, too many leftists and people who consider themselves opponents of capitalism are, once again, suspending their once real or professed disbelief in the parliamentary and electoral path. Rather than help Greeks find a solution, they are themselves creating further obstacles and leaving people helpless in the face of what is likely to come: further squeezing by the capitalist imperialist system and rapid dangerous gyrations.
Why immigrants are forced to flee to Europe – and how European governments throw aside law and morality to stop them: The case of Eritrea
6 July 2015. A World to Win News Service. Eritrea has only six million inhabitants, but 37,000 of them fled the country in the first ten months of last year. As of June 2015, Eritreans are the second largest group of immigrants (after Syrians) to make the perilous journey to Europe and elsewhere.
For the most part these men and women are fleeing indefinite military service, which often involves forced labour. Those who try to avoid this service or escape their enslavement once enlisted face arrest, torture and disappearance. Women also face sexual harassment and rape by their commanders. Yet instead of welcoming these refugees, as common decency and law requires, European governments are declaring the Eritrean regime tolerable and encouraging it to imprison its people within its borders.
Denmark has played a leading role in these measures. In reaction to the growing volume of asylum requests from Eritreans, in 2014 Denmark published a report that concluded there was no valid reason to grant them that status. The report was largely based on interviews with anonymous diplomatic and other sources in Eritrea and is said to contain contradictory and speculative statements about Eritrea’s human rights situation and claims that the government promises reforms. It stated that Eritreans’s fears that they would be killed if sent back to Eritrea are unsubstantiated. Two commission members resigned in protest, saying that while they were investigating the situation in Eritrea, they had no access to detention centres or interviews with victims or witnesses of human rights violations and that the claims in the report are misleading at best.
The report was also denounced by the deputy director of Human Rights Watch, Leslie Lefkow, who said, “The Danish report seems more like a political effort to stem migration than an honest assessment of Eritrea’s human rights situation. Instead of speculating on potential Eritrean government reforms, host governments should wait to see whether pledges actually translate into changes on the ground.”
However, using the Danish report, the UK has issued new guidance that refuses many more asylum applications by Eritreans, who are currently the second largest group of would-be refugees seekers in the UK at this particular time.
UN officials and human rights organisations believe several European Union countries such as Norway, Italy and the UK may be offering the Eritrean government money and the lifting of the arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze on listed Eritrean officials in exchange for stricter Eritrean border controls. “Key European figures have been heading to Asmara and it’s clear there is a real political will to solve the migrant crisis by getting the borders shut from the Eritrean side – it’s a very dangerous tactic,” said one UN insider who understands the brutal actions of the Eritrean regime. (Guardian, 13 June 2015)
A UN report based on 550 confidential interviews with witnesses abroad and 160 written submissions, released 8 June 2015, finds Eritrea responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations on a massive scale bordering on crimes against humanity.
Sheila B. Keetharuth, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said Eritreans deserve international protection. “This is why one of our key recommendations in the report is aimed at the international community, urging it to continue to provide protection to all those fleeing Eritrea; to respect the principle of non-refoulement (sending asylum seekers back to their home countries); and to end bilateral and other arrangements that jeopardize the lives of those who seek asylum. To ascribe their decision to flee solely to economic reasons is to ignore the dire human rights situation in Eritrea and the very real suffering of its people,” she said.
Eritrea’s minister of information dismissed the UN report as “garbage in, garbage out.”
The plight of these refugees is not sufficiently highlighted by their rising numbers only. What people actually risk or experience conveys how desperate they are to leave. Just leaving Eritrea is fraught with danger because border guards, acting on official policy, often shoot to kill.
According to the Telegraph (3 October 2013,) “There are three principal routes by which they try to escape – and all are exceptionally dangerous. Some make contact with people smugglers and pay for passage across the Red Sea to Yemen, from where they try to slip into Saudi Arabia and reach the wealthy kingdoms of the Gulf.
“Others head westwards, over the border into Sudan and then north across the Sahara into Egypt. Here, they have two options, both fraught with peril. Some turn east and try to cross the Sinai Peninsula with the aim of reaching Israel. Along the way, they run the risk of being kidnapped by Bedouin gunmen, who often try to extract ransoms by torturing their captives.
“Others turn west and head over the frontier into Libya, from where they board overloaded boats of the kind that sank on Thursday. If they remain afloat, these vessels carry their huddled passengers across the Mediterranean to Sicily, the Italian mainland – or, more frequently, the island of Lampedusa where migrants are then detained.”
Here is the story of one Eritrean immigrant: “A 26-year-old former Bisha mine worker told Vice News he was forced to work at the mine from January 2011 to October 2013. He did not want his name used for fear of retribution against his family back home. He said he worked at the mine seven days a week, 12 hours from Monday to Saturday and seven hours on Sunday. ‘We were not given enough food to eat, so I was always very weak and exhausted by the end of the day. Health problems like difficulty passing urine and diarrhoea abounded. I lived in a compound housing about 600 people, sharing 10 toilets and 20 showers.’ In October 2013 he was transferred away from the mining company to another conscripted job, where he experienced ‘severe physical punishment’. ‘It was too much to cope and I decided to leave,’ he said. In December 2013 he fled on foot across the border to Sudan.:” (Vice News, 12 June 2015)
Bisha, a rich source of copper, silver, gold, and zinc, is the country’s only mine. One of Eitrea’s biggest enterprises, it is a major factor in the country’s high level of economic growth. (In a bitter irony, another is emigration – almost a third of the country’s GDP comes from remittances from the five percent of the population forced to emigrate by the same situation that makes Eritrea so attractive to foreign capital.) The mine is majority-owned by the Canadian transnational company Nevsun, with the Eritrean state a junior partner. Three formers mine works have filed a civil suit in Canada accusing Nevsun of complicity in torture, forced labour and slavery. The class action suit says that Bisha provides “massive financial support and incentives to continue Eritrea’s system of
The regime initially instituted obligatory military service in response to a long-standing border dispute with neighbouring Ethiopia, including outright war in 1998-2000. The two countries maintain armies of roughly the same number of troops, even though Ethiopia is more than fifteen times bigger than Eritrea in terms of population. The leadership of the two regimes were once closely allied in fighting the broadly hated Ethiopian regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, which collapsed after the Soviet Union it was allied with.
The region’s European colonial powers had enabled Ethiopia to annex Eritrea, and Mengistu continued this. After Mengistu fell in 1991 Eritrea did not gain independence for another two years and the former allies entered into confrontation. The new Ethiopian regime was brought under the wing of Washington. The U.S. found Ethiopia useful in its efforts to dominate the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia’s army has acted as a gendarme for the U.S. in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.
In short, the imperialist countries are deeply implicated in creating and continuing the situation that forces so many Eritreans to flee their country. Human lives weigh nothing when it comes to imperialist economic and political interests. This is also clearly demonstrated by the European governments’ latest policies toward Eritrean and other refugees, whom these governments would rather see drowned in the Mediterranean that alive on Europe’s shores.
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