A rising tide lifts all boats and drowns underpaid stranded cockle-scavengers.
Comparing economies to tides is dodgy enough, playing into the idea that the boom-bust cycle is a sterile process, and all we need to do now we’re in the deepest crisis since the 1930s is “balance the books” and wait for “things” to pick up again.
There’s another way we can employ the “rising tide” metaphor. Imagine the tide coming in on a beach, rising slowly. Imagine it rises far beyond the usual line of dark sand and seaweed, and just keeps rising- past the dunes, across the fields, then pouring in mud and foam into the streets. Imagine that terrifying video from Japan, only in slow motion, taking place over months. That’s kind of what the last few years has felt like- a freak event that the usual “authorities” are totally unable to explain or reassure us about.
Éamon Gilmore recently enough reassured us that “Ireland is not Greece”. Last time we heard that we were not the Greeks, we will recall, the Greek politicians were insisting within a few short months that Greece was not Ireland.
(Just in case history forgets some of the more bizarre moments Gilmore has contributed to it, it’s worth recording here that one of Labour’s most concrete economic proposals during the election was to transform Ireland into a “hub” for “cloud computing”. Another idea in the Labour manifesto was the plan for another “transformation” for Ireland, to create “not just a knowledge economy, but a knowledge society”.)
Of course, this little story does not necessarily prove that “Ireland is Greece”. It proves that politicians are a similar breed internationally, deploying the same lame, callous, faintly racist excuses the world over. All the same, Ireland is Greece, at least in the sense that these careerist butchers insist it isn’t. Like in Greece, our economy tried to overcome its limitations with a credit-binge that, when it ended, actually made things worse; we’re not far behind them on the road to default; we’re part of the crumbling European periphery that proves the impossibility of European integration on the basis of Capitalism. There are important differences (Ireland’s trade unions are sluggishly awakening from a social-partnership-induced stupor) but the two countries are on the same trajectory.
Most fundamentally, Greece will today (29/6/11) or tomorrow answer a question that faces Ireland too, a question with revolutionary implications.
The Greek parliament is voting on the latest “unpayable loan+ vicious austerity EU/IMF debt trap” (They don’t actually call them that). The people they are supposed to represent have been thronging the streets and squares every day since mid-May saying they can’t possibly take it. Only 11% approve of the government party’s policies. 6% approve of the opposition.
If the parliament says yes to the debt trap, what are the people going to do next?
If the parliament listens to its people and says no, what’s the next step for the EU, the IMF and world capitalism as a whole?
Put this way, Greece illustrates the revolutionary struggle that is in the making around the world. The cuts and hikes and layoffs demanded to safeguard the bosses’ profitability and the integrity of capitalism are far in excess of what we can take. In this sense, Ireland certainly is Greece. For example, look to a recent story, that of the hospital budget “overspend”- a disgusting misnomer.
“Austerity” and “tough decisions”- those phrases, so easy for politicians to spit out, don’t really capture the extreme misery that must be inflicted on society if the banking system and the capitalist system in general are to be saved. Think of the closure of vital hospitals, and realize it’s just one of many of the effects of the last budget. Consider that FG/Lab are waiting until after the silly season to stick the knife in seriously, and you get a picture of what we’re up against.
A lot of commentators say that according to “the rules of capitalism”, banks and bondholders should take their losses like any investor who loses out. But nobody ever sat down and wrote a rulebook which Capitalists have to abide by. It’s not an ideology which everyone agreed on but an economic reality, backed up ideologically.
It’s a system whereby wealth is in the hands of a few private individuals whose role is to “create” jobs, services and products through their “enterprise”, which apparently is unique to them. If you accept the proposition that Capitalists are the “wealth creators” in society, that without them and their system no economy could function, then you accept the implications of that. Our politicians certainly do: since capitalists and their “enterprise” are so damn valuable, the working and middle classes must be prepared to sacrifice everything, even their lives, to defend the “greater good” that the interests of the rich represent. Very convenient if you happen to be wealthy and not of a sharing disposition. If you’re in favour of Capitalism, what that means at the dawn of the 21st century is that you think society should be ripped apart to keep the system staggering on for a little while longer.
There are people, however, who identify this class-based nature of society and see that it’s possible to control democratically the wealth of society. We believe in real grassroots economic democracy, under which we could set fair wages, save the planet, avert economic crises long before they happen and divert the billions from boob jobs and pet psychiatrists to solving world hunger. The whole world would no longer have to answer to the interests of a mob of billionaire shareholders who are in constant paranoid competition with each other. Instead, the working class itself would manage production and distribution through participatory democracy on all levels. This is Socialism, and it’s not a utopian vision, it’s just common sense. Or we could stick with the EU/IMF deal and the “cloud computing hub” idea. Whatever.
The tide is rising. Ireland, Greece and others are slipping under faster than, say, Germany, because Ireland and Greece have tiny, weak capitalist classes who had to indulge in the credit binge more than any other advanced country- like socially awkward people at a party drinking too much.
The tide is rising and our leaders can’t explain it or make it turn around. They don’t actually understand what’s happening (see articles, “They’re making it up as they go along,” parts one and two, on this blog). They’re just hoping the tide will recede before it drowns them, career-first.
We’re not Greeks. Nor are we Irish, and we’re not Libyan or American or Chinese either. We are the forces of the international working class, which needs to mobilize to defend itself and society at large. Changing the world is not going to be easy, but the idea that society will conform to the plans of the bosses and their puppets is laughable. Reality is becoming incompatible with the interests of an outdated ruling elite that still holds political power in its hands. Capitalism is a millstone. We have come to a supremely fucked-up historical moment. Wait until America goes under, and wait until China’s insane growth hits its limits and collapses, and the world’s biggest working class expands on the struggles that it’s fighting already. Realize that Greece is only the first shuddering of a European earthquake that’s already in these early days shaking loose the peripheries. The tide is rising.