Greek Crisis Shows the Power of Protest

Critics of the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Everywhere movement argue that the movement needs to have a positive program to succeed. The events going on in Greece right now suggest that they are wrong.

The Greek protest movement has been (and is) much larger and more militant than anything in the US. However, it is similar to Occupy Wall Street in one important way: it is a protest against the domination of politics by the 1%, not a call to implement a particular program. The protesters reject austerity — deep cuts in social services and jobs — as a solution to the financial crisis caused by the banks. They do not, as far as I can see, prescribe a different solution; rather, they demand that politicians find one.

These protests have already forced an important concession from the banks: they have agreed to take a big loss, 50%, on their loans to the Greek government (or rather, they have been told that they have to do so by the German and French governments). However, this settlement, announced late last week, still demanded that Greece impose the “austerity” program.

Prime Minister Papandreou, seeing the depth and strength of public opposition to austerity, suddenly announced that he would call a referendum on the plan, which had already passed parliament. This was a second victory for the protest – actual democracy! Letting the people really decide if the cuts were the best solution. How radical!

Too radical for the EU, it turns out,and maybe too radical for Papandreou’s cabinet. As I write this, it looks like he may be forced out. One rumor is that elections will be called – another victory for protest and democracy. However, there is also talk of turning the government over to a banker, Lucas Papademos, which would certainly be a victory for the 1%.

What we have to bear in mind here is that austerity is not the only solution (if it is a solution at all). The crisis is largely caused by Greece’s being on the euro, so that it cannot control its own currency (see my earlier post, “Why Greece Is in Trouble”). I’ll leave the details to the economists, but Greece could go back to the drachma, devalue, and tell the banks who are holding it to ransom to either accept payment in devalued drachmas or else face default.

That may or may not be the best solution (and many variants are possible) – and the decision belongs to the people of Greece, not to me (and certainly not to Angela Merkel). That decision could be made either by Papandreou’s proposed referendum or by a snap election. My point is simply that there are solutions that let the Greek people take back their democratic sovereignty.

The Occupy movement can learn a lot from this. The important thing to do right now is not to focus on a particular solution to the jobs crisis. Nor is it to rally behind a set of candidates. The important thing is to demand that the politicians stop serving the banks and start serving the people.

One thought on “Greek Crisis Shows the Power of Protest”

  1. The banks struck back and won today, fracturing Greece’s socialist and forcing Papandreou to cancel his call for a referendum. There is still a chance that Greece will leave the euro, however. I’ll write another post when more has happened!

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