The Greeks Get It

Chris Hedges
May 24, 2010

Numerous riots have gripped Athens
during the last year or so of unrest.
AP / Petros Giannakouris

Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and
loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and
international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic
data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse.
They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs
have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first
place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the
bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich
versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus
the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

The former right-wing government of Greece lied about the size of the
country’s budget deficit. It was not 3.7 percent of gross domestic product
but 13.6 percent. And it now looks like the economies of Spain, Ireland,
Italy and Portugal are as bad as Greece’s, which is why the euro has lost 20
percent of its value in the last few months. The few hundred billion in
bailouts for other faltering European states, like our own bailouts, have
only forestalled disaster. This is why the U.S. stock exchange is in free fall
and gold is rocketing upward. American banks do not have heavy exposure
in Greece, but Greece, as most economists concede, is only the start. Wall
Street is deeply invested in other European states, and when the unraveling
begins the foundations of our own economy will rumble and crack as
loudly as the collapse in Athens. The corporate overlords will demand that
we too impose draconian controls and cuts or see credit evaporate. They
have the money and the power to hurt us. There will be more unemployment,
more personal and commercial bankruptcies, more foreclosures and more
human misery. And the corporate state, despite this suffering, will continue
to plunge us deeper into debt to make war. It will use fear to keep us passive.
We are being consumed from the inside out. Our economy is as rotten as the
economy in Greece. We too borrow billions a day to stay afloat. We too have
staggering deficits, which can never be repaid. Heed the dire rhetoric of
European leaders.

“The euro is in danger,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers
last week as she called on them to approve Germany’s portion of the bailout
plan. “If we do not avert this danger, then the consequences for Europe are
incalculable, and then the consequences beyond Europe are incalculable.”

Beyond Europe means us. The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis,
which preceded the current government of George Papandreou, did what the
Republicans did under George W. Bush. They looted taxpayer funds to enrich
their corporate masters and bankrupt the country. They stole hundreds of
millions of dollars from individual retirement and pension accounts slowly
built up over years by citizens who had been honest and industrious. They
used mass propaganda to make the population afraid of terrorists and
surrender civil liberties, including habeas corpus. And while Bush and
Karamanlis, along with the corporate criminal class they abetted, live in
unparalleled luxury, ordinary working men and women are told they must
endure even more pain and suffering to make amends. It is feudal rape. And
there has to be a point when even the American public—which still believes
the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to
success—will realize it has been had.

We have seen these austerity measures before. Latin Americans, like the
Russians, were forced by the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank to gut social services, end subsidies on basic goods and food, and
decimate the income levels of the middle class—the foundation of
democracy—in the name of fiscal responsibility. Small entrepreneurs,
especially farmers, were wiped out. State industries were sold off by corrupt
government officials to capitalists for a fraction of their value. Utilities and
state services were privatized.

What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what
is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a
global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will
defy them. It is up to us. Barack Obama is simply the latest face that masks
the corporate state. His administration serves corporate interests, not ours.
Obama, like Goldman Sachs or Citibank, does not want the public to see how
the Federal Reserve Bank acts as a private account and ATM machine for
Wall Street at our expense. He, too, has helped orchestrate the largest
transference of wealth upward in American history. He serves our imperial
wars, refuses to restore civil liberties, and has not tamed our crippling
deficits. His administration gutted regulatory agencies that permitted BP to
turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic swamp. The refusal of Obama to
intervene in a meaningful way to save the gulf’s ecosystem and curtail the
abuses of the natural gas and oil corporations is not an accident. He knows
where power lies. BP and its employees handed more than $3.5 million
to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their
money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

We are facing the collapse of the world’s financial system. It is the end of
globalization. And in these final moments the rich are trying to get all
they can while there is still time. The fusion of corporatism, militarism
and internal and external intelligence agencies—much of their work done by
private contractors—has given these corporations terrifying mechanisms of
control. Think of it, as the Greeks do, as a species of foreign occupation.
Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.

Dwight Macdonald laid out the consequences of a culture such as ours,
where the waging of war was “the normal mode of existence.”* The concept
of perpetual war, which eluded the theorists behind the 19th and early 20th
century reform and social movements, including Karl Marx, has left social
reformers unable to deal with this effective mechanism of mass control.
The old reformists had limited their focus to internal class struggle and, as
Macdonald noted, never worked out “an adequate theory of the political
significance of war.” Until that gap is filled, Macdonald warned, “modern
socialism will continue to have a somewhat academic flavor.”

Macdonald detailed in his 1946 essay “The Root Is Man” the marriage
between capitalism and permanent war. He despaired of an effective
resistance until the permanent war economy, and the mentality that went
with it, was defeated. Macdonald, who was an anarchist, saw that the
Marxists and the liberal class in Western democracies had both mistakenly
placed their faith for human progress in the goodness of the state. This
faith, he noted, was a huge error. The state, whether in the capitalist United
States or the communist Soviet Union, eventually devoured its children.
And it did this by using the organs of mass propaganda to keep its
populations afraid and in a state of endless war. It did this by insisting that
human beings be sacrificed before the sacred idol of the market or the
utopian worker’s paradise. The war state provides a constant stream of
enemies, whether the German Hun, the Bolshevik, the Nazi, the Soviet
agent or the Islamic terrorist. Fear and war, Macdonald understood, was the
mechanism that let oligarchs pillage in the name of national security.

“Modern totalitarianism can integrate the masses so completely into the
political structure, through terror and propaganda, that they become
the architects of their own enslavement,” he wrote. “This does not make the
slavery less, but on the contrary more— a paradox there is no space to
unravel here. Bureaucratic collectivism, not capitalism, is the most dangerous
future enemy of socialism.”

Macdonald argued that democratic states had to dismantle the permanent
war economy and the propaganda that came with it. They had to act and
govern according to the non-historical and more esoteric values of truth,
justice, equality and empathy. Our liberal class, from the church and
the university to the press and the Democratic Party, by paying homage to
the practical dictates required by hollow statecraft and legislation, has lost
its moral voice. Liberals serve false gods. The belief in progress through
war, science, technology and consumption has been used to justify the
trampling of these non-historical values. And the blind acceptance of the
dictates of globalization, the tragic and false belief that globalization is
a form of inevitable progress, is perhaps the quintessential illustration of
Macdonald’s point. The choice is not between the needs of the market and
human beings. There should be no choice. And until we break free from
serving the fiction of human progress, whether that comes in the form of
corporate capitalism or any other utopian vision, we will continue to
emasculate ourselves and perpetuate needless human misery. As the crowds
of strikers in Athens understand, it is not the banks that are important but
the people who raise children, build communities and sustain life. And when
a government forgets whom it serves and why it exists, it must be replaced.

“The Progressive makes History the center of his ideology,” Macdonald
wrote in “The Root Is Man.”

“The Radical puts Man there. The Progressive’s attitude is optimistic
both about human nature (which he thinks is good, hence all that
is needed is to change institutions so as to give this goodness a chance
to work) and about the possibility of understanding history through
scientific method. The Radical is, if not exactly pessimistic, at least
more sensitive to the dual nature; he is skeptical about the ability of
science to explain things beyond a certain point; he is aware of the
tragic element in man’s fate not only today but in any collective terms
(the interests of Society or the Working Class); the Radical stresses
the individual conscience and sensibility. The Progressive starts off
from what is actually happening; the Radical starts off from what
he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is
‘on his side.’ The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own
individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased;
but he is quite stubborn about following ‘what ought to be’ rather
than ‘what is.’ ”


Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent, spent two decades
covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East for
the New York Times and is the author of War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.
His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of