Tuesday 30 June 2015

The phoenix of Marxist delusion

Growing up in East Germany sometimes felt like living in a fantasy world. It was not so much that East Germany was a land of plenty but rather that some people spoke a language that appeared to hover over reality without ever really touching it. In public, people seemed to engage in an elaborate linguistic game with strict yet inscrutable rules, juggling words without any meaning.

'Imperialist plots' were constantly afoot which were designed to prevent the 'vanguard of the working class' to march unhindered towards a 'glorious communist future'. Ultimately, however, resistance was futile since the Marxist logic of the march of history was undeniable.

In other words, some people appeared to live in a parallel reality. The question was whether they really believed the elaborate conceptual constructs they used in public speech. The end of communism answered that question, so I thought, and political and social affairs took on an air of pragmatic realism again. Or, as my grandmother put it: 'Looks like things will be normal again from now on.'

This normality of politics for long has informed the broader consensus in European politics. Cut through the ideological nonsense and find solutions to problems has been the motto of European politicians ever since they put their signatures under the Treaty of Rome.

The first extreme leftist Greek European government, in coalition with an extreme right wing party, (who says political extremes are polar opposites!) is a sign that this consensus is about to end. Listening to the Greek Prime Minister it reminds me of East Germany. It sometimes sounds as if he really believes the hollow phrases of neoliberal evil-doers and Greek comrades being humiliated by the international finance capital. Mixed into this melange of ideological clap-trap borrowed from the darkest Stalinist times is a good dose of eternal victimhood that traditionally curries favour with the Greek populace.

Seen as a clash between pragmatists and ideologues, the negotiations between the troika and Greece could only have one final destination: a confrontation between nationalist and ideologically charged rhetoric and shock and disbelief by European governments about the Greek Prime Minister for refusing to accept the basic framework of pragmatic European politics, resting on negotiations and compromise. Yet, we shouldn't be surprised. The attractions of living in a fantasy world have always be strong. And, you know, no one has yet conclusively proven that Marx was wrong.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Bailouts won't change a thing...

Whilst most people are increasingly likely to greet news about Greece with a sense of fatigue, the main battle lines appear to criss-cross political camps. The arguments have been rehearsed endlessly so I spare you another repeat. However, there is one aspect that receives less attention. It's the ability of the Greek government to reform as opposed to its willingness to do so.

Much of the discussion hinges on whether Greece can get the breathing space through another bailout (or a long term debt relief) to reform its economy and become competitive in the world markets again. This assumes however that the Greek government has the wherewithal to actually carry out reforms at this stage. It seems to me that this is a huge assumption to make given the parlous state of its tax system and the traditionally low levels of administrative governance in the country. So, despite all talk about the pros and cons of bailouts, even if Greece would be afforded some space and time, it is unlikely to emerge any time soon as the all new and shiny South European twin sister of Germany.

This aspect shifts the perspective from what the Greek government is willing to do (triggering nasty discussions about blame) to what it can and can not do, prompting a realistic calculations of the chances to reform. It is that realism that should guide politicians on Monday what to do about Greece, rather than indulging in fantasy scenarios.