In the unforgettable Bob Fosse movie, All that Jazz, a charming and unpredictable director, played by Roy Scheider, leads a life that kills: women, booze, smoke, late night escapades, and a tremendous lot of work. His heart warns him, but of course he does not change course, and the fatal moment comes. In the meantime, however, our hero has changed inside. He leaves behind his cool addiction to the ephemeral. Not only does he die all the wiser, but from the experience of his final march he distills new meaning for his life. Reflecting upon his memories and feelings, and dissecting them mercilessly, he turns them into unforgettable art. Thus he renders his real masterpiece, which is also his swan song.
In his relentless course to death, five feelings dominate the artist one by one: rage, denial, negotiation, depression and acceptance. At first he is angered by death’s approach, having yet so many things to do in life. Then he denies that the warnings are genuine. Subsequently he tries to bargain, pleading for more time. When negotiation proves futile, depression sets in, followed by reconciliation with reality, acceptance of destiny and the results of his choices. In the meantime, his life takes on new dimensions, and his art reaches its creative zenith. This is why his loss becomes a tragedy.
Is there any chance, I wonder, that Its Majesty the Euro will acquire such tragic dimensions in its final moments that we are now witnessing? Will it change, in its twilight, both habits and character? Will this tool for the enrichment of a small cabal of bankers become an instrument for redistribution of wealth in favour of the many, for convergence between North and South, for the consolidation of social democracy from end to end of the eurozone? Will it become the saviour of the periphery, of this same periphery it dragged into the crisis in the first place, unflinchingly and deliberately? And how can this pauline conversion be achieved? Through a flood of eurobonds perhaps? Will the euro manage to save itself through such an astonishing u-turn, to be born anew on the road to Damascus and become a euro for the people?
Something of the sort is asserted, publicly at least, by those who want the euro king of our country. They range from the Prime Minister and Mr. Samaras, his conservative alter ego in the right, to the leader of Synaspismos in the left, Mr. Tsipras, who even claims to have fathered the idea of the eurobond, and to the ex speechwriter of the Prime Minister, the economist Yannis Varoufakis. They advertise a peoples’ euro, propped up by an inexhaustible reserve of eurobonds. Since the peoples of Europe have failed to achieve a political union, let them unite their public debt if nothing else. Let’s struggle for our equality in debt! Having by now abandoned even the aspiration of social justice, let’s at least secure common borrowing rates. Down with debt discrimination! It’s about time those bankers started exploiting us equally and fairly. We demand this responsible and realistic reform, and we will get it! Could the Left find any better objectives than these?
The eurobond’s fans of the Left imagine that if Mr. Trichet and assorted heads of states put their signatures on the appropriate bits of paper, the problem of sovereign debt would vanish. Instead of people mobilising to change the rules of the game by demanding debt cancellation, it is enough that their elected representatives respectfully submit the radical demand of a joint bond to the competent officials, who they will then make all necessary changes, and the debt crisis will evaporate. A technical problem will have found its technocratic solution. The euro will stand strong, as will our poor bankers too, who will go on earning their well deserved dividends. A rosy euro and happy bankers, what more could the Left want? Or who else could save the euro and the banks? Maybe the present governments, who consistently manage to sink them?
The anthems to the eurobond however are usually played in the minor, not major scale. The selling strategy, tellingly, is based on cultivating fear, stupor and indifference rather than enthusiasm. The joint bond is presented as something unimportant; we shouldn’t bother arguing about such a trivial matter). “The issue isn’t the country’s currency or the eurobond” writes a well-meaning leftist, “but the survival of society; let’s not go searching for dividing lines between us”. On a similar wave-length Yannis Milios, the cadre responsible for the economic policy of Synaspismos, the second biggest party of the Left, asserts that “the real dilemma for the labour force and the social movements is not which currency we should choose”. Let’s mobilize together, at last, casting aside these moot points. Nothing could be as convincing and effective as a Left united, a Left simultaneously in favour of both the eurobond and the drachma.
Now that the Merkel – Sarkozy meeting removed it from the immediate agenda, could the eurobond become a demand of the self-proclaimed pro-European Left? This matters little to Greece, which will probably be banished from the house of Euro before the latter collapses like the house of Usher. Nonetheless, the idea is a joke. It doesn’t answer basic problems of the crisis, it has irresolvable internal contradictions, and it is impossible to muster up any political clout. That European politicians toy with it, simply shows their desperation. They are at an impasse, and even if they implemented it, it would lead to worse crises in the following months.
The life of a joint bond will be neither long nor happy. Its main aim is to sedate social and political reactions, of both capitalists and the people, until a less provisional solution is hopefully found. Of course this is known to its hypothetical buyers; for it is not enough for a bond to be issued, somebody must also want to buy it, and this somebody, precisely because no secure and unitary state entity supports it, will demand outrageous returns. The idea’s conservative opponents see this, and trumpet it. The so-called pro-European Left however refuses to admit that instead of searching for new tricks to get the loan sharks paid, we should at last stop paying them. Instead of promoting eurobonds, they should better hear the revolts of the squares, whose main slogan is “We Owe Nothing, We Sell Nothing, We Pay Nothing!”
In short, the joint bond is but a joint. A hallucinogen to keep society and the political opposition, the streets and the Left, separate and asleep. It is sad to watch leftists fall into this trap, showing that they still hope for magic solutions, always ready to swallow heavy doses of nonsense, so long as it serves to keep people immobilised. Nostalgic of the past and fearful of the future, this Left trembles at the thought that we have entered a new historical period of polarization and conflict, which demands critical vigilance and mass mobilization. It forgets that the Left exists to fight for the dignity of the people, to unite it and help it prevail. For two years now, they have been too embarrassed to discuss default and call for debt cancellation, and they still refuse to whisper, together with ourindignados, “We Owe Nothing, We Sell Nothing, We Pay Nothing!”
This very Left, panicking and grieving for the imminent death of the euro, is now in Scheider’s middle phase (together with many other people, of course). It keeps negotiating, in a futile effort to win time. Many others, throughout Europe, have passed on to the depression phase; first of all, our all-knowing analysts who now talk of everything else under the sun except the fate of the common currency, or the investors who vote with their feet, fleeing the euro to the safety of gold and silver. Not few are the others who are stuck in the phase of denial; the Greek government, for example, is playing business as usual while the Eurozone disintegrates around it, pretending that all is going marvelously according to plan; in fact, it is opening new war fronts with its latest attack on public universities. Most interesting of all, however, is the army of the enraged.
No one would expect those who take key decisions to belong to this camp, but in reality they do. Trichet, Merkel and Sarkozy, together with their courtiers and theirkameralisten, were not prepared for swimming in the deep end. Watching the euro explode in their hands, they are not happy at all. They lack vision, they do not know what they want, they do not know what to do, let alone how to do it. So, like King Canut, they keep ordering the tide to stop.
Those powerful in Europe are now paying for their financial arrogance, similar to the US military arrogance that led its troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. They were piloting a Leviathan, a huge plane carrier, accustomed to seeing dinghies and sail boats avoid it at all cost. Now they realize that they have driven it straight into a reef, and that they will have to pay for it. Dumbfounded, as they have not read David Harvey nor Immanuel Wallerstein, they are now furious. They respond to the crisis with macho shows of force, more or less like Cameron’s response to the British rioters. Of course, they only make matters worse. Their sole concerns are to protect the euro, the banks, and the stock markets; but they are blowing up the common currency, liquidating the banks, and ruining share prices. Given these conditions, the Left could take the initiative, if only its cadres were not so lethargic.
Rather than squandering its forces in senseless battles for the euro and the eurobond, the parliamentary Left should have begun long ago fighting the real battles, the battles of ideas and battles in the squares. The first and inevitably political battle is, of course, exiting the euro, and thus restoring our monetary and fiscal policy. This however, is not enough; no one craves the drachma of Andreas Papandreou or Costas Simitis. A popular economic policy needs a new Bank of Greece, owned by the public, and not in private hands as it is now, that will print the national currency and keep its exchange rate under democratic control. The actions of a central bank directly affect the level of unemployment and many other issues that must be decided by the people. No democratic control of the central bank equals no democracy. Without policy control of the central bank, democracy is implausible.
The Left must also demand, much more energetically than it has done so far, the socialization of all banks that cannot survive without state support, i.e. practically all of them. Thus we will remove the institutional base of power of the currently dominant group of capitalists, and we will pave the way for a democratic reconstruction of the economy. Implementing capital controls, equalizing the general levels of earnings, and putting in place a fair tax system, are other necessary steps in this direction. By returning to the drachma we can slain today’s unbridled capitalism, and create the necessary local bases for a new system. Our obvious point is that this cannot be done within the euro. Of course, it might not happen outside the euro either. Certainly it will not happen without a struggle.
We exit the euro; we stop feeding the speculators, and we cancel the debt; we socialize the banking system, and we open up the path to food and energy self-sufficiency; we turn decisively towards a de-growth model, and help the blossoming of cooperative labour, thus creating the necessary conditions for full employment and a rapid end to economic inequality. If not now, then when? None of this can happen without conflict. More and more people understand this, and passionately flood the streets and squares. The so-called pro-European, in truth simply conservative, leadership of Synaspismos disagrees. But the rage against our rulers presents us with an historic opportunity to push through this programme; if we lose it, we become like China. Things could not be simpler.
Translated by Christina Laskaridis. Spyros Marchetos teaches History of Ideas at the Political Sciences School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The greek original text was published electronically by the Leschi tis Anypotaktis Theorias (http://tinyurl.com/6flkvll ).