It is three years since the masters of the universe at Lehman Brothers went supernova. The financial crisis unleashed then has morphed around the world and shows no sign of abating. Indeed the normally news-light summer months brought a slew of shocking surveys revealing falling business confidence, plummeting employment and economic activity from the US, through to Europe to Japan. Of the big zones of the world economy, only China showed a pulse.
Now we stand on the brink of further round of chaos and collapse. Talk of a double-dip or W-shaped recession is misplaced. We have had no recovery to speak of and instead have been locked into an L-shaped limbo for many months, shuffling towards another precipice.
The full scale of what lies in store is only beginning to register in the public consciousness. The riots last month were a foretaste of the social consequences of the slash-and-burn policies which Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are pursuing.
Look to Latin America, Africa and Asia at so many points over the last 30 years and you see the effects of structural adjustment programmes designed to hammer public spending and squeeze the public as a whole in order to meet the insatiable appetite of private bankers. Put simply, people die – and more of them and younger. And make no mistake – what is being imposed on Britain, Europe and elsewhere is a structural adjustment programme of that kind, not merely some unwelcome cuts that will be reversed after a few years of growth, for growth is the last thing that the austerity-mongers are talking about.
To see where all this is leading, look at Greece. In the business section of the news broadcasts the economic data flashes across the screen and talking heads refer to "bond yields," "haircuts," "rescheduling" and an alphabet soup of international agencies and the latest European financial initiatives.
Grey is the dismal science of economics. Blood red is the reality behind this blizzard of buzzwords. Children returned to school in Greece last week. They are without textbooks – the education ministry does not have the money to print them – and soon many may be without teachers.
The troika of the IMF, European Union and European Central Bank which is enforcing the savagery flounced out of Athens a few weeks ago saying that Greece had not slashed enough. The government swiftly announced the immediate sacking of 10,000 public-sector employees, with another 10,000 after, on top of the mass redundancies already underway. Pay for many households – not the shipping magnates and business elite, of course – has fallen 20 per cent.
Now, in another panic move to secure October's tranche of loans to stave off bankruptcy, the Greek government is imposing a €2 billion tax on housing. It is simply going to add the charge to household electricity bills. Greece has a state-owned electricity company that will cut off anyone who doesn't pay the tithe. It is of course a supreme irony lost on the free marketeers that they are demanding that that enterprise is privatised and broken-up, which had it already happened would now deprive the government of income and revenue-raising power.
Such ironies are built in to this Greek tragedy because the entire play is in the theatre of the absurd. The European elites seem surprised that by forcing Greece – and before it Ireland – to destroy large chunks of the economy, that the result has been a greater gap between government revenue and the amount it must spend, increasingly to the banks. But you don't have to be an economics Nobel laureate to know that if the economy shrinks, then the amount paid in tax goes down while the amount paid in welfare – minimal in Greece – and in debt repayments – huge – tends to go up. Yet this kind of austerity dogma, which tipped the world into the Great Depression of the 1930s, is now being inflicted on Greece and here too.
So obviously destructive are the results that doubts are expressed even among the partisans of capitalist globalisation. So US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner recently complained that too many governments, in Europe in particular, have lost faith in what he called traditional fiscal tools to deal with a slump, which means state spending and investment to counter the failure of businesses and households to borrow and spend. His words would be more credible if the Obama administration were boldly doing that. Instead we have the woefully inadequate so-called jobs package.
Some of it is for investment, which is more than can be said for any of Osborne's schemes, but most of it is to cut taxes on business. These are the very businesses which, despite record low interest rates, are refusing to invest, expand and employ. Instead they are stashing their money in the banks – about $2 trillion of it – from whence it ricochets from one commodity to another via gold, forex, oil, bets upon bets upon bets, and never finding its way into producing real things and employing real people.
I don't know if Obama will turn the corner and retain the presidency. That matters of course, but we already have the frightening spectacle of a White House enthralled to the Tea Party vandals, the Texacutioners, the Bachmanns and Palins.
And so we have the further absurdity of endless summits and emergency meetings, each one hearing that the policies are driving the problems deeper and wider, and each sticking with the course, a little tinkering on the side – no U-turn, not one step back.
As what has already been called a depression threatens to gain a capital letter and become something akin to the Great Depression of the hungry '30s, so all the old filth is bubbling up from the sewer. We've already had two decades of intensifying hostility to Muslims and to immigrants in Europe. As the borders went higher around the continent, leaving desperate African migrants to be washed up on the tourist beaches of Tenerife, there was at least the faint consolation that they were coming down within Europe. Not now. Xenophobic nationalism is back within the EU itself. It is not only the fascist and far-right populists who are promoting it. So too are those who claim that only austerity can save us, that more power must be centralised in the unelected bureaucracies who roll up into Athens and demand ever harsher measures, countersigning government Bills and decisions in a way that marks a dangerous curtailment of democracy.
Remember the European anthem played at the launch of the euro over a decade ago? Schiller's stirring words, "All men shall be brothers," rang out to Beethoven's immortal chords. Now the saviours of the euro talk of the Greeks and others in southern Europe as lazy, swindlers, irresponsible, not fit to run their own affairs. This from big business such as German-based Siemens, whose contracts took the lion's share of the largesse heaped upon the Athens Olympics, the biggest single source of public debt in Greece which the Greek people are still paying for.
For this is the nasty little secret of the whole euro enterprise. I have never been with the "little Englanders" or the narrow nationalists who look with contempt at our neighbours on the continent. What is not to like about the peoples from the Mediterranean to the Baltic? Who could be against the closer union of working people in a continent which bled two generations of their blood last century?
But that was the last thing on the mind of the European elites. They didn't want an entity that would be responsive to the popular will, redistributive from the very rich to the poor, capable of balancing out production and consumption across the continent so that rational investment decisions of the kind that are sorely needed now could be made by a benevolent public authority big enough to face down the men behind the bond and currency markets. They wanted to enforce the visibly failing free-market nostrums everywhere through a race to the bottom in which the most aggressive capitalists, mainly in the north of the continent, had a larger region to exploit.
Now it is crashing down. And it is the people – especially the most vulnerable and exploited – who are getting the blame.
The fact that there are new scapegoats – Europe's Muslim communities, African migrants – has not taken the heat off the old ones. It must surely be the shrillest of alarms for anyone acquainted with 20th century history that Roma are being rounded up and expelled by public authorities, vilified by politicians and their camps burnt by racist thugs.
It's not only in Europe. The eviction of the traveller community at Dale Farm has been attended by an orgy of bigotry in the Daily Mail and elsewhere. Not everyone has joined in, by any means. It was a ray of light to see the Irish traveller participant Paddy Doherty win Celebrity Big Brother, demonstrating that public bigotry is not so overwhelming. But it is nothing short of sickening to read from Mencap and other charities that the press and politicians' lambasting of people on benefits is leading to rising levels of verbal and physical attacks on disabled people.
Those of us who count ourselves as on the left or progressive must set our face against all of this and at the same time embrace those who seek to come together and resist the economic onslaught, from protesters and occupiers in Greece to the unions in Britain who are standing up for dignity in retirement, not only for hard-pressed public servants but for the people as a whole.
And we must find ways to force some basic truths into the political sphere. We cannot cut our way out of a slump. Ending recession means growth, and that means investment. The state has printed vast amounts of money and is about to pump out more. It is sitting in the banks.
If the captains of industry won't change course and invest, then the state must – not through PFI schemes and other privateers' scams, which merely hand the assets and the profits to those who will put them to no productive use. But through state enterprises, well run, responsive to the people, building homes, employing people, bringing hope and banishing the breeding grounds of
It is not an easy task. The political class seem inured despite the dawning reality, just as they did at the beginning of the 1930s. But if the left does not make that case now, how will that ever change?
George Galloway is the former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and before that Glasgow Kelvin and Glasgow Hillhead. He is the Nominating Officer for the Respect Party and founder of the Viva Palestina convoys. This article first appeared on his website.
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