Inside the Greek Parliament House, it’s business as usual. Outside is a virtual war zone, where riot police clash with citizens under thunderheads of tear gas. For the past decade, the Greek government has poured money into luxuries for its administrators, running up $400-billion in debt. Now facing a credit-rating collapse and massive disinvestment, the government has turned to its people to pay off its loans.
Greece’s parliament has passed a series of austerity measures raising taxes and taking deep cuts from salaries, pensions and social programs. Each round of legislation has been met with outrage from the public, drawing 100,000 demonstrators in Athens alone.
Betraying its democratic pretensions, the government has violently suppressed these protests, sending police to attack demonstrators with tear gas, stun grenades, truncheons and rocks.
“I saw riot police officers beat a man who’d fallen to the ground, acting for all the world like a wolf pack falling upon its prey,” a British photographer said. “The only bright spot was the extreme bravery of ordinary Greeks who defied the brutality of the police to protest and were capable of the most amazing acts of kindness to strangers even in the worst situations.”
The police’s heavy-handed tactics have only strengthened the people’s resolve. From college students to veteran blue collar laborers, the Greek working class has turned out to protest in force every day for months. Volunteer clinics have been set up to treat the victims of police attacks. Labor unions have led massive strikes, culminating in a 48-hour general strike from June 28 to 29 which paralyzed public transportation throughout Greece. It has been the first 48-hour general strike in Greece since the 1970s.
Anti-capitalist sentiment is running high throughout the working class, and Marxist and anarchist groups are playing an increasing role in organizing forceful resistance to the austerity measures.
The people of Greece have made it known that they reject their government’s solution to the debt crisis. They do not wish to spend the next decade working off their rulers’ $400 billion tab.
However, in the hermetically-sealed environment of parliament, Greece’s majority party is doing its best to ignore the will of their people; approving round after round of anti-labor laws and begging the rest of the European Union for handouts. This is democracy, according to the Greek government.
What the situation in Greece illustrates is that democracy and capitalism are incompatible.
This is true simply because capitalism results in the accumulation of economic wealth at one pole of society at the expense of the other. Since, in capitalist society, everything inevitably becomes commercialized, the absence of economic wealth also means the absence of dignity, independence and political power.
Democracy cannot exist in a political system where power is concentrated in the hands of a minority of the population. However, a facade of democracy is a useful tool for the ruling class. Allowing the public to choose among candidates creates the illusion that meaningful change can be achieved within the existing system, even when all available candidates are only cosmetically dissimilar. Elections in the capitalist system do not serve a democratic function, they exist in order to pacify resistance to state authority by giving the working class a harmless outlet for its dissatisfaction.
As is being demonstrated in Greece, when the people forcefully demand change, the illusion of democracy evaporates. This also applies in the US, where economic inequality is significantly greater than in Greece. When US workers refuse to be exploited any longer, they will find their “free and democratic” government will apply the truncheon just as readily as the Greek state has.