Vasilis Grollios is a Greek researcher in political theory, currently studying at York University. He spoke to Solidarity about the cuts in Greece.
This is a longer version than in the printed paper.
The standard of living for 95% of the population has been seriously reduced. Wages are already very low, and pensions are very small as well. Most hospitals have cancelled appointments.
Doctors have not had money for overtime work for four or five months, and after several months of overtime pay being withheld, doctors have the legal right to cease attending appointments. That means more money for private sector hospitals, because people who can afford it go private instead.
In education, the plan is to have 50% less teachers and 30 students in a class instead of 20.
People who work under contract for the government will get their first salary ten to twelve months after they have started work. Although they will not be paid, the government still asks them to pay tax. And if they do not pay tax, they end up in jail. This is completely irrational.
Indirect taxes are now rising seriously, and they are already among the highest in Europe. It is a squeeze on the working class’s standard of living.
The capitalists enjoy 8 billion euros in tax relief. Their standard of living is hardly squeezed. According to a newspaper, the price of a business-class flight has risen by 35% because rich people are going to Paris, Milan, or Istanbul to have a great time. There is a shortage of caviar on the market. 50 grams of caviar costs 586 euros, because demand is so high. The sale of expensive cars costing over 50,000 euros has only diminished by about 10% less.
The tax on private companies' profits is now 24% instead of 40% in 1980, and the programme of Pasok [the governing party] is to reduce it further to 20%. There has been an extra tax this year only on their profits, but generally the tax will continue to be 24% and then reduced to 20%.
The government has done absolutely nothing to cut military spending. They say haven’t announced any cuts because they must pay for the contracts which they have already signed.
Pensioners have lost out because they will no longer get the "13th and 14th month" payments. [Pensions and some wages in Greece have traditionally been paid in 14 instalments each year, one each month plus extra instalments at Christmas and Easter. The government has cancelled those "13th and 14th month" payments].
A great percentage of pensioners draw less money from their pension than the minimum wage, which is 740 euros. Pensioners are having a very bad time.
Ordinary people are disappointed and see no solution to what has happened. They are not informed about the democratic deficit in the EU, or what would be the repercussions of stopping payments on the debt, because no serious discussion has taken place in the mass media beyond certain small newspapers.
The discussion is only about which of the two main parties, Pasok and New Democracy, has stolen less money.
Here is one example: one month ago, prime minister George Papandreou, in parliament, said to New Democracy [the conservative opposition party]: “Shame on New Democracy! One of your ministers bought rugs for his office at the cost of 28,000 euros.” He didn’t name the minister.
The leader of New Democracy didn’t say, “Who is this guy, we would like to expel him from the party”. He just said, “Look who’s talking! Pasok has stolen more than us”.
It is just a competition over who has stolen less money from state funds. This is ridiculous, and ordinary people are just disappointed. That is the reason for the low turn-out at the last elections, where 30% of the electorate didn’t turn out to vote.
Still, however, either people do not go to vote, or they go to vote for the same parties that they are criticising every day. I cannot explain it.
In the mainstream media no serious discussion has happened. There has been a little reporting on the crises in other countries, but no discussion of what is happening to capitalism in general or of where capitalism is going.
In universities and some other circles there is a lot of discussion to the effect that the Greek crisis is part of a general crisis in capitalism, and that Greece is a "social experiment" in how the working class can be made to pay the cost of the crisis. In fact, George Papandreou has said as much, in order to palm off some responsibility.
Marx said in Capital that the "the country that is more developed industrially [Britain, then] only shows to the less developed the image of its own future".
The same applies for Greece today: it shows other countries the image of their future as the crisis develops.
Pasok and New Democracy say that because they've been elected, the cuts are democratically decided. The whole capitalist class and the mainstream media are also saying that.
They are saying that we have the right to express disagreement through demonstrating – but not the right to be any more radical than that.
KKE [Greek Communist Party] people did some symbolic occupations in the ministry of finance and the whole mainstream media was against them.
Pasok took 43.9% of the vote,. There were 30% of abstentions, but those who do not vote, do not count.
The Greek system is supposedly proportional representation, but parties with less than three per cent get no seats, and the leading party gets a 40-seat big bonus.
Those “democratic” elections gave Pasok a big majority, but they do not show that it has a mandate to carry out its programme.
The demands posed by the early British working class movement, the Chartists, for one person one vote, do not prevail now in Greece, because the winning party takes a very big bonus.
Also, democracy presupposes not only form but also content – that is, the essence of social relations, meaning the way that people come into contact with each other and with nature in order to satisfy their human needs. A genuinely democratic society presupposes democratic control over the way that production takes place.
A democratic society presupposes the overthrow of the capitalist relations of production, of private property in the means of production.
In the 19th century, the concept of democracy had a clear class content. That notion has now disappeared, which is deplorable.
The liberal John Stuart Mill rejected the label of "democratic philosopher". The liberal tradition is not the same as the democratic tradition. But if Mill could see the excessive power that the European Central Bank has over European governments, he would turn in his grave.
Even the liberal tradition is a very radical one nowadays. We have turned into Americans – liberals are now considered to be on the left. Even social-democratic policy is very radical by the standards of our current society.
The possibility of an alternative government to replace the current one and carry through different policies in place of the cuts could emerge if a great revolt takes place and the government is overthrown - if we have not just general strikes but people occupying ministries and overthrowing the government, which is what I and many other Marxists think must take place. But for that to happen the left must be united around a common programme. Unfortunately that is not yet the case.
The Communist Party (KKE) says that Greece should abandon not only the Euro, but the EU altogether. This is the KKE’s standard proposal.
Syriza [the biggest left electoral force after the KKE] has two or three members of parliament who are professors of political economy, and they say that we should stop paying our debt for a few months and renegotiate it. These are the two main proposals in circulation – leaving the EU, or renegotiating our debt.