As we watch the struggle between the Syriza government and the capital of the European Union, I want to draw some parallels and lessons.

It was just 85 years ago that a similar struggle occurred between the Left parties of Germany and the fascist Right under Hitler. The terms of the Versailles peace treaty in 1919, which had been created by Britain and the France, imposed a terrible burden of debt on the German economy and its people. When the 1929-31 crises of capitalism hit the Germans, massive unemployment followed. A different period of history, of course, but with parallels of austerity and unemployment we ought not to forget.

History has moved on, and no two situations are ever ‘the same’, but the massive unemployment and stagnant economy of Germany then and situation of unemployment, debt and austerity in Greece today are an uncomfortable parallel. In both cases, the mass of the people were and are being asked to pay for the capital of the richest people on earth. The background of both is quite different, except for a capitalist class determined to extract its profits, and to maintain its power. In 1931, after the election of that year, the German ruling class chose Hitler over the Left. Today will the EU German banks push Syriza so far that the Greek fascists get the opening they are waiting for?

Today there are many differences. The EU and German Banks are working hand in hand with the IMF. Quite clearly these, financial authorities do not wish to create a humane system of capital, and go down the path put forward suggested by Syriza. The Americans created the IMF after 1945. The IMF has acted for decades within a framework outside any democratic controls. The Americans appoint the IMF Secretary General. Should any nation need US dollars to trade, the IMF steps in and offers the dollars on condition that they privatise Government owned assets, and operate within limits set by the IMF.

It is a system designed to keep developing countries not only within the capitalist system, but within the framework created by the most powerful nations of the world. If you have studied the Western colonial system, as I have done, you can legitimately argue that, the IMF, the World Bank and its associate banks, were mechanisms designed to recolonise many of the small nation states.

For decades this system of imperial control has occurred in the main outside of Europe. But now with the crises in 2007/8, the austerity is the policy of many major political parties of Western Europe. The smaller Western societies have been hit with a vengeance. Suddenly we find that the methods handed out to the Africans and Latin Americans in the last decades of the 20th century have being imposed within the heart of Europe. The banks of the EU are colonising Greece.

We are living within a historical period of unprecedented inequality. Unacceptable levels of austerity are hitting Greece, Spain, and soon maybe the rest of us. The democratic response of the Greek people offers the banks and their capitalist class a way out. But as we have already seen the ruling financial classes prefer to use the opportunity to deepen the already terrible levels of inequality and further private Greek public resources. The EU banks and German government act as a totalitarian state, refusing to make sensible compromises.

The opportunity for a decent and dynamic capitalism is here now. What we are witnessing is the beginning of replay of the 1930s, different actors, different dynamics, but are outcomes going to be more of the same?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Roger van Zwanenberg

Dr Roger van Zwanenberg is the former managing director of Pluto Books.

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