Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Could Greece Become the Salvation of Western Democracy?

Greece is revered as the nation that gave mankind democracy.  Could it now become the nation that restored democracy to mankind?

Around the world, democracy has taken a pounding from the fist of neoliberalism.  Market fundamentalism and democracy are simply incompatible over time.  Neoliberalism promotes illiberal democracy, ultimately leading to political capture and the rise of plutocracy as the populace is steadily reduced economically and politically, their power quietly transferred to a select minority.

The Guardian's George Monbiot writes that we're witnessing "the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus."  This he sees in the triumph of the Syriza movement in the recent Greek elections.

The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.

Foreign Policy's Philippe LeGrain agrees with Monbiot and foresees Syriza's win spreading to Spain and beyond.

"Yes we can" may be a stale slogan in Obama's America but in crisis-hit Spain it is the rallying cry of a year-old radical-left party that is taking the country by storm. In a show of strength, more than 100,000 supporters of Podemos (the party’s name means “We Can” in Spanish) filled the streets of Madrid on Jan. 31 to protest against austerity, crushing debts, and the country’s corrupt political system — and demand change. The demonstrators don’t represent a fringe group, either. Podemos is leading in the polls, ahead of both the mainstream center-left and center-right parties in elections that will be held by the end of the year.

The election of a radical-left Syriza-led government in Greece on Jan. 25 has electrified European politics. After years of being told that there is no alternative to bowing to German demands for crushing austerity and wage cuts, the plucky Greeks have dared to stand up to Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin — and other Europeans have stood up and noticed. While the immediate focus is on the showdown between the new Greek government and eurozone authorities over demands for debt relief — and the (unlikely) possibility that Greece could end up ejected from the currency union — Athenian defiance is already having wider political repercussions.

...Debtor-country governments that have obediently complied with the German diktat — notably, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland — suddenly feel very exposed politically. Governments that have mounted a mild challenge to Merkel (think France and Italy) are in a delicate position: They spy an opportunity to advance their own agenda, while fearing that they may be outflanked by those with a more radical one. And not without reason; anti-establishment parties of various stripes have the wind in their sails.

Whenever voters throw out a government, as they have done in nearly every election since the crisis began in 2008, officials from Berlin, Brussels, and Frankfurt — whom they did not elect and cannot hold to account — loudly insist that the incoming administration must stick to the failed policies of the outgoing one. Since voting for establishment parties of the center-left or center-right makes little difference, it’s hardly surprising that voters are seeking a genuine alternative. And for the moment this exists only on the extremes.

Sometimes, as in Greece and Spain, the insurgents are on the radical left. In Ireland, which is not due to vote until next year, Sinn Féin, a left-wing party that was formerly the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, has a narrow lead in the polls. In other cases, the upstarts are on the far-right. In France, Marine Le Pen’s racist National Front is out in front,winning by-elections and pulling ahead in polls for the 2017 presidential election. In Italy, where reformist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi remains popular, all three main opposition parties — the far-right Northern League, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — are now anti-euro.

Meanwhile, The Tyee's Crawford Killian ponders whether Canada's politically disaffected could provide the core for our own version of Syrzia or Podemos.

Radical or not, Syriza and Podemos pose a powerful challenge to the narrow centre-right spectrum of acceptable thought. That could encourage some of our cautious Liberals and New Democrats to try out some ideas that are radical only by comparison with the dull orthodoxy of Stephen Harper. If they do, they might find that many Canadians are way ahead of them -- including the two out of five who didn't even bother to vote in the last election.

I agree.  The Liberals and the New Democrats too easily threw in the towel to embrace market fundamentalism and an unhealthy degree of neoliberalism as though these were inevitabilities.  In their unseemly quest for power (NDP) and redemption (LPC) both have abandoned the progressive Left.  They might both do well to lift their eyes, take a look around, and mend their ways.

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