By G. Dunkel
May 12, 2012
While the elections in Greece and France had a common thread — rejecting austerity — their impacts will be different.
France is the world’s fifth largest economy, with a productive, skilled and highly paid working class. France is a major imperialist power, with colonies in the Caribbean and neocolonies in Africa. It’s had an election among the two remaining candidates for president, a powerful post which some Marxist analysts describe as a “disguised monarchy.”
François Hollande, even though he belongs to a party that calls itself “socialist,” by his training and education in elite finishing schools and his career as a provincial politician with deep ties to Paris, he is a member of the French capitalist establishment in good standing. His economic prescription for France is higher taxes, particularly on the rich, a mild jobs program and a balanced budget by 2017, the end of his term.
Parties to the left of the Socialists called for voting for Hollande as a means of rejecting the incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy’s record of targeting unions, workers and all democratic rights.
Pierre Laurent, secretary general of the French Communist Party, said, “In the concrete conditions of the second round [of the presidential election], the only way to pursue the fight for the Left Front is to assure the most crushing defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy. His program, as we see from his daily declarations of war against unions and our standard of living is far worse than what he has actually accomplished.” (L’Humanité, April 27.)
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate of the Parti du Gauche (Left Party) in the first round, issued a similar statement May 3 in L’Humanité.
The way one French leftist put her voting intentions: “I am going to hold my nose when I vote for Hollande,” who ended up with just under 52 percent of the vote to Sarkozy’s 48 percent.
Parliamentary elections in mid-June will reveal more about changes in popular attitudes. The actual impact on policy is much like an electoral victory of a Democrat over a Republican would be here in the U.S.: different domestic programs, but both serve big capital.
Greek voters rebuff European banks
Greece is in a full-fledged depression, rivaling the Great Depression of the U.S. in the 1930s. By World Bank figures, its economy has been contracting since 2008 — nearly 7 percent in 2011 and about the same in 2010. Unemployment is at 21 percent and youth unemployment is over 50 percent. According to its agreement with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, the Greek government is scheduled to make another $15 billion in budget cuts next month.
The two parties that alternated running the government since the 1970s — New Democracy, a center right party, and Pasok, a party that calls itself “socialist” — had jointly signed on to the agreements to make such drastic cuts in return for a $250 billion bailout. Their support imploded. New Democracy went from 33 percent of the vote in 2009 to less than 19 percent on Sunday; Pasok went from 44 percent of the vote to 13 percent. They do not have enough seats in parliament to form a government without partners, which they will be trying to find in the next few days.
According to the Guardian (May 7), the reaction of the IMF and other bailout providers was silence.
Support for Syriza, a left social democratic party that supports Greece remaining in the European Union, jumped to 17 percent; the Greek Communist Party (KKE), got 8.5 percent of the vote, increasing from 7 percent in 2009. A fascist party and some smaller left parties also improved their results. Seven parties will be represented in the new parliament.
Aleka Papariga, the general secretary of the Greek Communist Party, which calls for Greece leaving the EU and abandoning the euro, addressed the political situation at a huge rally the KKE held in Athens on May 3. She explained why her party would not ally with Syriza and try to form a government
“It is obvious that a coalition with other borrowed votes has one precondition: that the KKE cancel positions based on the solid experience of the past and the bleak capitalist present. In this way we will become very useful to the system, so that the people’s movement can be curtailed and so that this government will have its hands free to compromise with and submit to Brussels, Washington, and above all to carry out the well known U-turns in Greece. …
“We are not going to play this game because we do not want to kill the hopes of the people.” She added that “the conflict with the EU is the only way as is the conflict with the monopolies in Greece.”
The situation in Greece, both political and economic, is very fluid. The anger and desperation of its people are deep and the crisis of capitalism is rapidly ripening.