Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Angry Left Returns

Anthony Faiola reports that in Greece, where the economy is shrinking fast under austerity measures and youth unemployment approaches 40 percent, violent anarchism is making a comeback. There have been riots, street battles between protesters and police, and numerous small acts of arson and vandalism.
Thousands have joined an “I Won’t Pay” movement, refusing to cover highway tolls, bus fares, even fees at public hospitals. To block a landfill project, an entire town south of Athens has risen up against the government, burning earth-moving equipment and destroying part of a main access road.
A majority of Greeks still supports the austerity; after all, the government is broke and doesn't have much choice. So far there has been no real terrorism, but some authorities are nervous. A young Greek with no job prospects told Faiola,
I don’t support violence for violence’s sake, but violence is a response to the violence the government is committing against society. . . It is now hard for any of us to see a future here. I feel it’s my duty to fight against the system.
Where will this lead? Greece could easily see the return of the sporadic left-right violence that troubled the country for decades, ending only in the boom years of the late 1990s. What about the rest of Europe? What about America?

Voting for far-right parties is up across Europe, along with anti-immigrant sentiment, anarchist protest, and other signs of instability. In America much of the angry surge has been channeled via the Tea Party into conventional conservative politics, but unless the economy turns around quickly that anger could fork out in other directions. The sort of austerity measures being called for by leading Republicans, along with their anti-union drive, could easily launch a wave of left-wing protest.

The backdrop of ever increasing inequality makes me think of the 1930s, when the US endured waves of strike-related violence. The country is so strongly capitalist now that many young Americans don't even know how strongly the legitimacy of big business was challenged during the heyday of the unions. The solution we found then is the one I think we should pursue now: a peaceful alliance between business, labor and government that led to a major decline in inequality. Conservatives and business leaders are in a no-compromise mode now, so that seems unlikely. And that means, I think, that we could well see an intensification of political and economic conflict over the next decade.

No comments: