Something of significance happened in Greece this week, an event that marked the end of an era, the passing of an age and a sign of the times. Demis Roussos died. One hopes the singing tent, who so successfully serenaded the Beverly’s of Suburbia in the Long Hot Summer, has found his island in the sun at last.
Oh, and the Greek people elected a radical-left party as their new government, something that has apparently sent ‘shock waves’ through the crumbling corporate incarnation of the Holy Roman Empire that is the European Union. Returning from attending the funeral of an unelected despot in Saudi Arabia, David Cameron had cause to pause and express his regrets that Syriza had captured power in Greece by purely democratic means. Are we all supposed to be quaking in our boots as if to compliment Dave’s forebodings? Erm…
For all the food banks, benefit cuts and undoubted hardship inflicted upon those on the bottom rung of society’s ladder in Britain since the financial crash of 2008, we have had it relatively easy compared to parts of mainland Europe. In the wake of the Greek electorate’s decision to reject austerity as they desperately search for an alternative, Spain is rumoured to be the next EU member poised to veer to the left. It’s no great surprise. Unemployment there has been far more catastrophic than here, particularly amongst the young, where figures for that demographic have been higher than any other EU country; even those who had educated the Spanish youth for a future snatched away from them have found their efforts unrewarded, with teachers reduced to sleeping rough on the streets whilst half-finished luxury apartments have been occupied by penniless families in an act of spontaneous reclamation. Over the past six years, many stony-faced soothsayers have reminded anyone prepared to listen that the traditional pattern of European economic meltdowns ordinarily leads to right-wing coups and war within a decade, and there has been a grain of truth in the first half of this pessimistic prediction in that the far-right has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity as blame for each nation’s ills has subtly shifted from financiers to immigrants – something our friendly neighbourhood Jihadists have played a significant part in. So far, so accurate; but how does this explain events in Greece this past week?
Many reading this are no doubt currently enduring persistent financial headaches in terms of mortgage repayments or the extortionate demands of energy suppliers, and perhaps even CPS threats that are a hangover of youthful indiscretions with the wrong woman; but, however relative such headaches may be, to slip into the shoes of a Spanish school-leaver bearing enough qualifications to warrant a job for life that is no longer there or a middle-aged Greek public-sector worker issued with a redundancy notice after twenty-five years loyal service might help clarify the reasoning behind the switch of allegiances within politics on the Continent when the comforting barrier of the Channel gives us a false perspective of safety.
To write off the Greek electorate’s judgement as a gross error would be a mistake. Unless we have experienced the genuinely debilitating economic aftermath of 2008 first hand, it’s all-too easy to condemn and criticise and to worry that events in Greece might herald a new era of ill-advised and naive recourse to pseudo-Marxism that can only herd the people over the cliff’s edge like an inebriated shepherd drinking on the job. If the consequence of capitalism has left the internal structure of one’s country in ruins, is it any wonder the electorate have flocked to another point of view in their droves? Many Greeks view the EU as a glorified pimp who regards their nation as a whore in permanent debt to him. Any party that at least hinted at the possibility of escape from dependency on the great Brussels massage-parlour was bound to strike a potent chord, and what is, on paper, a drastic change of direction could also be regarded as a simple desire to look at a fresh face. One could argue that people in this country warm to the likes of Farage and Bo-Jo, regardless of their policies, because they present a welcome change from the production-line blandroids stripped of personality by party whips and focus groups; and it’s not unreasonable to see the rejection of the powers-that-be by Greeks as coming from the same place. Indeed, it’s also not unreasonable to speculate that what seems to us as unfathomable popularity for Putin in his homeland is in part a reaction to the disastrous free-market project of Yeltsin that preceded him.
Even if Spain follows suit, it has not been (as far as I’m aware) the intention of the incoming administration in Greece to exit the EU, despite the palpable concerns of Frau Merkel, so it’s possible that once the usual hyperbole that follows a dramatic change of government has subsided it will only be domestic policy that has significantly altered. Anyone under a certain age – and that probably excludes most followers of this blog – will no more relate to Europe’s socialist administrations of the 1960s and 70s than they would to similar experiments in the 30s, something that could make the majority of the electorate sitting ducks for a repetition of what went wrong last time this happened on one hand or open to different approaches to perennial problems on the other. Either way, it would seem churlish not to wish them well and hope something genuinely new arises from the cautious revival of a philosophy so discredited by past abuses of its original intentions.
Of course, Marx and Engels were writing in a world governed by systems that may seem familiar to us but are in reality a long way from where we are now, with the imperial engine of Western Europe at one end and the effectively medieval feudal autocracy of Tsarist Russia at the other. To impose Marx’s theories in their most literal form upon a twenty-first century model shaped by decades of capitalist theory put into practice simply wouldn’t work. It stands to reason that any newly elected government of the left will most likely cherry-pick the less extreme aspects of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and blend them with the tried-and-tested successful elements of capitalism to forge something more palatable to the electorate in the hope that it restores some form of economic prosperity, or at the very least stability, to those corners of Europe that have felt the worst after-effects of 2008.
I’m no more convinced that the success of Syriza marks the ushering in of a new ‘Socialist Dark Age’ any more than I’m convinced the success of various far-right parties in other European countries will give rise to the next Hitler. As with the decline and fall of the traditional big two here, I merely regard these developments as a natural response to years of being promised the world and being delivered Scunthorpe. Such a kick up the arse could also prompt the parties accustomed to ruling the roost into a radical rethink of what they represent, in the same way (for good or ill) the short-lived SDP affected the future route of both the Liberal and the Labour parties in the 1980s. This could be a passing phase that benefits the old parties in the long run by eventually resulting in them coming back stronger than ever.
I’m pretty certain there are regular patrons of the Raccoon Arms who have studied political theory for a long time, perhaps via the university I didn’t attend, and are far more qualified to comment on current affairs than I am. But, as an uneducated observer, all I see is the will of the people to take a gamble on what they perceive to be an alternative to a system that has left them bereft of luxuries that are all too easy to take for granted when they haven’t been removed from one’s own picture. The new Greek government probably no more has ‘the answer’ than any other form of government, yet there are many disgruntled casualties of EU mismanagement that are prepared to give them a go, and I don’t begrudge them that. They may be right, they may be wrong; but good luck to ‘em nonetheless.