Greece, Dijsselbloem, austerity and World War I

This music video from the USA is called Pete Seeger: Which side are you on? Lyrics are here.

Which side is Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem on in the issue of European Union-imposed austerity policies, which damaged health and education, left people jobless, homeless and/or without electricity in Greece?

If Mr Dijsselbloem is still on the same side as he was in August 2013, then things look bad.

David Lizoain asks:

Which Side Are You On, Jeroen Dijsselbloem?

18 February 2015

Just over a hundred years have passed since the greatest failure of European social democracy. The workers’ movement was unable to halt the needless slaughter of World War I. First, Jean Jaures was assassinated, silencing his powerful anti-militarist voice. Soon after, the German SPD voted to authorize war credits for the Kaiser. Proletarian internationalism gave way to social patriotism.

Between the collapse of the Second International during the war and the divergent responses to the Russian Revolution, a rift opened up between socialists and communists in Europe that persists until this day.

Representatives of these two political traditions now find themselves at odds in a Eurogroup presided by Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Dutch PvdA. The backdrop is one where events in the Balkans have the capability of triggering a much bigger conflict. And once more a situation has arisen where ultimatums issued by the strong against the weak run the risk of only making the conflagration worse.

The key points of disagreement are not technical but political. The eventual size of Greece’s primary surplus, for instance, is important for economic but also symbolic reasons. The real issue is what sort of Europe will emerge out of the ongoing negotiations.

One possible outcome is a deepening of a Europe split on debtor-creditor lines, organized in a manner that leads to an ever-increasing divergence between the core and the periphery. This is a Europe divided into those who give charity and those who beg for alms, as opposed to a Europe with automatic mechanisms of solidarity. This is a Europe acting as a potent incubator for mutual recriminations and rapid breakdowns in good will.

Merkel, Rajoy, and Passos Coelho all favour this outcome. In spite of their different national circumstances, they are united in their preference for a hard line on account of shared preferences and a shared project. The ties that bind them are ideological.

Many social democrats too are reproducing the debtor-creditor fault line. In the midst of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, with democracy being hollowed out, with inequality on the rise, and with the far right on the march, social democracy is once more unable to act as a cohesive European actor. And the rise of Syriza has exposed its internal contradictions.

The Syriza negotiators are presenting a direct challenge to the powers that be. Their audacity consists of suggesting that the European institutions should be more responsive to the democratic process. They are making the point of principle that national elections should not be entirely irrelevant.

At stake is the credibility of the electoral road to a more progressive Europe – this is the basic premise of social democratic strategy in Europe, not some harebrained crackpot scheme. A negative outcome for Syriza is bad news for anyone who believes that once the votes have been counted the votes should count.

The choices facing the likes of Jeroen Dijsselbloem are therefore stark: they can either work to consolidate a Europe of subjects or defend a Europe of citizens. They can look to enforce the status quo or attempt to change the rules of the game. They can choose to represent the European institutions to their electorate, or to represent their electorate through the European institutions. They can look out for the part or for the whole.

If they fail to rise to the occasion, the historic price to pay will be very high. A bevy of far-right nationalists is waiting in the wings, eager to scapegoat internal and external enemies, and prepared to promise to safeguard sovereignty against an unresponsive and disconnected European elite. The risk is not abstract; they are already comfortably installed in parliaments across the Union, rising in the polls, and ready to take advantage of the situation. If the progressive challenge fails, the fascist challenge is up next. The end of the end of history is well upon us.

At this crucial juncture, while a mutual face-saving solution – probably based on euphemisms – is necessary, a strategic choice is required between either Schäuble and the failed centrist coalition or Varoufakis and the possibility of a different majority in Europe.

A social democracy that cannot credibly threaten to build an alternative majority will have very little leverage in the future. Change will come about by altering the democratic balance of power in Europe or not at all. And only with more European solidarity will a progressive alternative be possible; after all, its tragic absence led to a split a century ago.

About David Lizoain

David Lizoain graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Economics in 2004 and from the LSE with a Masters in Development Studies in 2005. He worked as an economist and in the Cabinet of the President of Catalonia, Spain.

The Trouble with Dijsselbloem. Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s political career shows the rightward shift of European social democracy, by Pepijn Brandon: here.

Greece Does Battle With Creationist Economics: Can Germany Be Brought Into the 21st Century? Here.

European Union gives no quarter in war against Greek workers: here.

Schäuble’s arrogance towards Greece and the class divide in Germany: here.


“Let Greece Breathe” was the theme of a rally called by the Australia-Greece Solidarity Campaign (AGSC) at Sydney Town Hall on February 16: here.

Thousands of citizens in Athens, Rome, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Lisbon, Vienna, Madrid, London and many other cities in Europe, as well as the United States and Australia, have taken to the streets in solidarity with the Greek people who are living a humanitarian crisis: here.

GREEK government ministers struggled last night to put together a list of initiatives to persuade debt inspectors from the EU-IMF-European Central Bank troika that they should recommend acceptance of their approach: here.

Greek PM accuses Spain, Portugal of anti-Athens ‘axis’: here.

German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, is leading the pack. He is a true believer in neoliberal economics, was one of the architects of the eurozone and is politically embedded in German big business. He is a member of the supervisory board of KfW, the German bank owed €15 billion by the Greeks. Fifteen years ago he had to resign as chair of CDU/CSU parliamentary group for involvement with an election donation of €100,000 from an arms dealer. So Mr Schaeuble speaks from experience when telling the Greeks to clean up their act: here.

35 thoughts on “Greece, Dijsselbloem, austerity and World War I

  1. German austerity dictate proves impossibility of “social Europe”

    The Brussels agreement to extend the EU programme for Greece means a humiliating defeat for the Syriza government. Their attempts to rally support within the union’s governments miserably failed. The German imposition uncompromisingly defending the narrow interests of the financial oligarchy prevailed bearing witness of the impossibility of a social turn within the power structures of the EU. Game over? We believe that there remains a possibility to thwart the EU’s starvation programme.

    But now it appears that Syriza got frightened by its own audacity. Some harsh words of the taskmaster of the creditors, Wolfgang Schäuble, were enough to corner them. For Syriza did not only promise to end the starvation dictate, but at the same time linked it inextricably with remaining within the eurozone. Varoufakis gambled with high stakes without securing the only possible trump in his hands – the active break with the capitalist elite, the self-steered exit from the eurozone. The current conjuncture would have offered a formidable occasion for a mass mobilisation backing such a historic decision.

    The possibility to end the starvation programme as promised by Syriza is still there. We strongly doubt that the popular masses as well as many political forces within Syriza and outside of it will accept that nothing should change. The people will continue to demand social improvements. Syriza cannot simply turn within a few days into a new Pasok. Syriza is more than the old Synaspismos guys who tie their fate to the EU. A broad front refusing the capitulation can be built addressing also large parts of Syriza. Maybe the only possibility is a kind of popular revolt against Synaspismos accompanied by an internal coup – to regain audacity!

    The central demands in the interest of the popular classes are: Exit from the euro – break with the capitalist centre.

    Entire article:


  2. Greek people must not accept new subjugation

    by MARS (Left Front Co-operation), Athens

    The SYRIZA-ANELL government succumbs to the demands of EU and paves the way for a new Memorandum

    The only road ahead is debt default, exiting the euro and confrontation with and disengagement from the EU. All the combatant forces of labour and of the Left must create a broad popular front for the defense of people’s rights and the confrontation with the EU and the disengagement from this reactionary slaughterhouse.

    full statement:


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  4. BRUSSELS (AP) — Greece’s creditors in the 19-country eurozone have approved a list of reforms Athens proposed to get a 4-month extension to its bailout, which would keep the country afloat.

    An encouraging initial reaction from the so-called institutions — the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — was backed by the eurozone Tuesday. It now goes to some member nations for approval.

    “We therefore agreed to proceed with the national procedures with a view to reaching the final decision on the extension by up to four months,” a eurogroup statement said.

    Greece’s bailout program ends at the end of the month and without further support over the coming months, the country faces the possibility of going bankrupt, imposing capital controls and ditching the euro.


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