Practical resilience: Response to Vinay's Europe's New War
There are lots of reasons to support Vinay Gupta's thesis that Europe is on the brink of a kind of war. His thesis is that at some stage the austerity measures being imposed for ideological reasons on Greece (and other countries in Europe - Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland) will result in some kind of revolutionary backlash where property will be seized. The fact that much of this property is owned by international institutions will result in major crises and consequent disruption of food supply chains and other infrastructure.
There are several responses to this:
1. It is already happening. Fundamentally the austerity measures are resulting in property seizure by international agencies (banks, TNCs) of personal or national assets (cf. for example the privatisation programme imposed on Greece). The privatisation of the NHS in the UK is another front where this war is occurring in the UK - what this means is that gradually that hip-replacement Vinay mentions no longer becomes an automatic right but is initially rationed and then eventually needs to be paid for. The absence of funds is making living in remote Greek islands extremely precarious if you happen to have an accident or life threatening illness. This process of conquest and colonisation by (relatively) faceless forces is no different than the earlier incarnations of colonialism whether we look at the spread of the East India Company or the colonisation of Egypt by the UK in the second half of the 19th century. The major difference today is the rather impressive propaganda whereby people are given the impression that "there is no alternative" (TINA). There always are alternatives at every stage in the unfolding of a war. The leader of Greece's SARIZA party, Tsipras, understands this when he says the conflict is between capital and people, and in the same breath states that it is not inevitable that Greece either imposes an austerity package or is kicked out of the Eurozone. His statements show far greater sophistication and understanding of reality than the current statements emanating from Angela Merkel.
2. It may not happen. One of the interesting but little understood achievements of the European Union is the gradual and subtle interweaving of Europeans at multiple levels. Over 1m UK citizens live (mostly in retirement in Spain). The mayor of Majorca is (or was until recently) a German citizen. Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens work in other EU countries. Universities and companies around the EU employ a multiplicity of international staff especially from other EU regions. There are 300,000 French citizens living in London, but there are an equal number of Greeks living there (proportionately a far greater percentage), let alone Spanish, Portugese and Irish. One question today is what the proportions are of the various social groups who are other Europeans. In the 19th century, a large proportion of 'navies' (those who dug the canals and built the railways) were Irish, but few bankers in the City of London were Irish. Today the proportion of foreign staff at all levels in society has increased enormously.
A friend of mine is a Portugese computer scientist working for a top insurance company in Zurich. His girlfriend is French-speaking Swiss. They speak English together. This is typical scenario today, more unusual in earlier centuries where freedom of movement of labour did not exist to that extent either for legal reasons or for lack of education and opportunity.
So the question arises whether the level of integration I am pointing to here can act as a brake on the tendency towards war. It certainly makes nonsense of national parties, national separatism.
On the other hand, one of the reasons the Greeks are torn about the Euro in spite of the austerity is the fear of losing the free movement of labour that membership of the EC provided. This fear at present is unfounded as there are other non-Eurozone members of the EC - however, in the long term it may make sense. My mother (aged 74) recommends that people should live where they have a passport because she has seen enough to know the dangers of living somewhere where one is by any criterion 'foreign'.
3. It does not need to happen. Vinay has argued time and again that the final arbiter of power is the nation state, with its laws and military power. If Tsipras is right that the real war is between capital and the people, and Vinay is right that the power lies with the nation state, then if Greece were to revolt and the nation state's power go into the hands of a revolutionary force then what part could capital play here? Three things to remember: First, nations have renationalised their resources frequently and often without serious negative consequences to their economic position (cf. Argentina renationalising its oil company, or Bolivia's Morales nationalising the natural gas reserves). Capital screams, everyone is upset, and then they move on. These are the rules of the game and if a nation choses to change them they usually have the right to do so if they are in a strong enough position.
Second, as Tsipras says, the problem lies as much with the lenders as with the borrowers. Greece is in a much stronger position than public discourse allows. It has already defaulted in effect so the imposition of the austerity is an ideological imposition independant of the reality of financial default.
Third, there is an irony that over the years Greece has been one of the largest arms importers in the world, spending more as a proportion of GDP than any other EU country. There is no present day need for this except to keep French, German and UK arms manufacturers happy. The side effect of this is that if Greece does choose to follow an independant path it is in a better position to do so than almost any other mediterranean country.
But this is not the sort of war Vinay speaks about - he speaks of an undeclared war of infrastructure meltdown. Nonetheless the point here is that power is not all in the hands of the EC or the neo-colonialist/neo-liberals.
4. Vinay's focus on the cities is important. Countries like Greece have kept strong ties to the countryside. Most Greek families have a 'second home' in the village, and it is to this village that many are returning. Ties have been kept with the relatives in the village supplying olive oil, and other basics. There are enormous problems with regard to the ability of Greek villages to feed themselves, but there is also huge potential. The poorer people are in the mediterranean societies the less impacted they are by the austerity measures, they more 'off-grid' they are in practice. It would interesting to find out whether just as the European banks have disengaged over the past 2-3 years from financially dangerous investments in the EC periphery, whether there has been a corresponding disengagement at an infrastructure level of the local populations, a re-engagment with the family ties which have always acted as the final, most essential infrastructure in times of crisis. If you can flee the city and be received by your cousins in the country, then the situation is a lot less bad than if you are an alienated individual with no effective ties to a (first life) social network.
This leads to the natural question as to what role can technology, especially social networks and our networked world, play in reducing the alienation of cities and providing alternative succour as the hard infrastructure collapses. Will our Facebook friends receive us, house us, feed us, when the shit hits the fan? Will we be able to find them in first life if all we know is their second life handle, when the lights go down?
5. While there has been an immense growth of international organisation in many areas (NGOs e.g. Greenpeace, TNCs e.g. Vodaphone, GM, Tata), there has been a dearth of overtly international political movements since the collapse of communism. In the context of Tsipras' remarks, we need transnational, pan-european political and social movements. We have the structural underpinnings - in the form of a common language (English dominates the EC) and technologies (social media, etc.). We have the political context in that it has become more and more clear that decisions are no longer made by our national governments for a whole range of issues. We have a clear democratic deficit (the weakness of the European parliament is well known). All this augurs well for a revolution in political action which crosses international boundaries and co-ordinates its activities. There are three movements which have to varying degrees expressed this: the Greens and more recently the Pirate Party and the Occupy Movement. Thus while the time may be ripe for revolutions, wars and other such unpleasantnesses, it may also be a opportunity for political maturity across the board, across social classes and national divides. This may sound somewhat utopian but looking at the realities of today in Europe we could just as easily tip into war (real hard war) as we could into creating trans-national political organisation with specific demands and legislative agendas. Here I suspect we come up against a certain degree of defeatism about the possibility of such political movements. The EC is continuously in danger of tipping into oligarchy (of some form). There is an opportunity to push back and revitalise democracy across the board.
6. The core advice Vinay has given on numerous occasions remains valid: Stock up with food and water so as to be able to survive a lengthy breakdown in services. We can add to that a. ensure you are living in a country whose passport you possess; b. build your first life social network to maximum, c. revitalise the connections with the cousins who grow tomatoes.