Heads you win, tails I lose. The limits of protest and political position in democracy… August 30, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.
It’s useful to hear the recent thoughts of Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker. He is quoted as saying that:
Greece will lose sovereignty and jobs to meet [the bailout] criteria, a comment that has enraged unions. Any suggestion of foreign intervention in running the country is an incendiary political issue that will make implementing reforms even tougher.
“The sovereignty of Greece will be massively limited,” Mr Juncker told Germany’s Focus magazine in an interview released yesterday. Teams of experts from around the euro zone would be heading to Athens, he said. ”One cannot be allowed to insult the Greeks. But one has to help them. They have said they are ready to accept expertise from the euro zone,” Mr Juncker said.
We can consider the issue of sovereignty in this context with some interest. I was very struck by how the vote early in the Summer in the Greek Parliament appeared to teeter on a knife edge, albeit not quite so much of an knife edge when one NDP MP voted with PASOK to ensure the passage of the measures. And when two of the three PASOK dissenters eventually rowed in behind the government.
What was educative was the fact that despite massive protests the government pursued a strategy of implementation.
And it has not mattered how heated, how energetic (and in some instances violent) the protests have become on the streets of Athens and elsewhere because ultimately representative democracy trumps those protests.
This provides some object lessons on the limits of protest in liberal democracies – it also provides a very useful insight into how the effective co-option of social democracy by orthodoxy has led to cosmetically perverse, but functionally orthodox, outcomes when social democratic parties attempting to impose austerity are faced with large conservative oppositions. That the opposition, or at least the NDP component was rhetorically opposed while functionally in favor [if there had been a greater danger of the measures not passing more NDP members would have stepped up to the plate] was merely positioning. And this, of course, is the inverse of the situation we saw in this state in the aftermath of the Budget when all the opposition were against the measures being implemented on a rhetorical level but significant components [Fine Gael and Labour] did little to stymie their passing and we even heard from individual FG TDs musings about how they would ‘do the national interest’ thing and vote with the then Government.
In a sense it is not that the larger and largest political formations agree and acquiesce on the orthodoxy which surprises (given the range of interests that are arrayed in favor of the orthodoxy it is the fact there are exceptions which is remarkable), it is that they attempt project an image of [limited] dissent when out of power.
Fundamentally this is noxious from a democratic position. It strips away agency from citizens and gifts it to parties. It renders policy positions essentially meaningless.
It is in many respects the approach we saw when Eamonn Gilmore went to the US embassy and privately agreed there would be a second Lisbon referendum while publicly arguing against the possibility of any such event.
And it underlines the truth of what Juncker is saying. Greek sovereignty is hollow in the face of the dynamics in play around it. The protests on the streets, whether violent or pacific, are a sideshow with no actual import – unless the situation spiraled into civil war or revolution [and it is worth reflecting upon the reality as against the perception of the recent UK riots, which while not political in the sense of the Greek protests are indicative of how dissent of any form is dealt with by contemporary European societies. At no point did they constitute, whatever the very real violence and upset and danger, a genuine threat to the UK state – a state which suppressed them simply by pouring more police onto streets and waiting for them to burn out. It didn’t even have to bring in curfews or any significant measures, and strikingly it is only in their aftermath with – frankly – excessive sentencing of some that the state has bared its teeth] , both of which are unlikely outcomes. The course is predetermined and colluded upon by political formations who even as they collude put out an image of themselves as locked in combat with one another.
None of which means that the protests are meaningless in themselves. It is because they exist that the contradiction, or is it hypocrisy, of the Greek polity is laid bare before its own citizens. And it is very probable that their severity and energy serve to blunt some of the worst impacts that the ECB/IMF might seek to impose.
But what is most instructive in all this is the response of markets and their proxies. Because it would appear that despite everyone knowing that the Greek situation will end either in restructure or default, the former being the less catastrophic option by quite some distance, there is still lip service and more paid to the idea that Greece can be squeezed in a fashion almost unthought of in contemporary Europe, outside the former Communist regimes.
The following was written before the most recent measures, but it still has significance.
Two rollover proposals being touted for Greek debt would amount to a selective default, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s warned today, tempering hopes for a resolution to the long-running saga.
The euro slipped on the dollar in Asian trading after S&P said that two recent plans for debt relief floated by Federation Bancaire Francaise (FBF) would count as “distressed” and involve losses to the debt holders. ”If either option were implemented in its current form, absent other mitigating information, we would likely view it as constituting a default under our criteria,” S&P said. ”In that event, we would likely lower Greece’s issuer credit rating to ‘SD’, indicating that it had effectively restructured some, but not all, of its bond debt.”
And in this perhaps is revealed the contradictions intrinsic to the orthodoxy. The markets know/knew that Greek restructuring and the austerity measures are/were well nigh-impossible to fulfill. And yet simultaneously any effort to ameliorate them is regarded as anathema. This contradiction is intrinsic to the ‘markets’ which will – entirely naturally from their perspective – want to have their cake and eat it. That’s why the ‘markets’ – and I use the term advisedly because it encompasses a multitude, are ultimately so dangerous, not merely their societal aspect in the sense of their goals being other than social ones, but their functional nihilism and distorting effect upon our societies and our polities, and this is why they and their proxies must be constrained by states and citizens.
And consider this. Juncker’s thoughts on sovereignty are merely further underlined by the fact that a non-state agency S&P can with a simple statement further diminish Greek agency in this. That his interpretation was based around the intervention of the ECB/IMF in regard to sovereignty serves to demonstrate where the real power lies – or is allowed to lie – in this current context.