If the Recession of 2008 in the U.S. was the first major campaign in the war of the rich against everyone else, the second campaign is now developing in West Europe, where the middle class is being defrauded and impoverished, one country at a time.
Following in the footsteps of U.S. conservatives under Bush and Cheney, Spanish politicians continue to make the needy pay first, attacking health care and education [RT 10/24/12] precisely when support for social programs is becoming more and more important. Spain’s recession is expected to continue for at least another year [EITB 10/24/12]. Rather than trying to meet the needs of Spanish society, the regime seems to be focusing on criminalizing democratic action [Revolting Europe 10/24/12], suggesting that a country whose emergence from a generation of dictatorship constituted one of the great post-WWII victories for European democracy may now face destabilizing radicalization.
A similar story continues to unfold in Greece, where police violated orders and attacked demonstrators following an attack with Molotov cocktails by a minority of protestors [RT 9/26/12]. Greece faced its second general strike in a month in mid-October, where workers are facing wage cuts and retirees are seeing their pensions cut.
Police violence (rubber bullets in Spain, tear gas in Greece) against protesters underscores the appearance of regimes intent upon fighting a class war against their own people in the interest of banks. The big difference between European and U.S. circumstances seems to be the lethargy of the American population in the face of similar regime efforts to transfer wealth from the middle class to the rich.
Eric Toussaint, Belgian political scientist and president of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt on 10/6/12 laid out the overarching context in blunt terms:
We are living at a historic time in Europe today. Never at any time in the past 65 years have we experienced an offensive as brutal as the one we face today in the countries of Europe. Everywhere in Europe, the pretext of debt is being used – not only in Greece, but in all European countries – to apply policies of budgetary austerity. In Greece, we can clearly see the results in their most brutal expression, but Greece is only the start of an offensive that is already affecting the people of Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and other European countries as well. [CADTM10/24/12.]
Costas Panayotakis, CUNY sociology professor, recently noted the underlying class war context of Greek policy:
when you basically throw the economy into a state of depression, the revenues, tax revenues will collapse, and what you have is a downward spiral. So some people would argue that this crisis is used as an opportunity to basically completely destroy labor rights and [incompr.] neoliberal restructuring of Greek society [The Real News.]
When neo-liberal efforts to impoverish the middle class for the benefit of the rich were focused on the cone of South America or, later, on Mexico, few paid heed; when it hit the U.S., only Occupy Movement progressives seemed awake;when the focus was Greece, most saw it as an anomaly. Now, the combination of Greece and Spain seems just the leading edge. Even Great Britain has already seen thousands protesting austerity policies, and in the U.S. peaceful electoral change appears to be an idea that has come and, sadly, gone. As post-WWII efforts to achieve social justice are steadily undermined by the counterattack of the selfish privileged, the lessons of the 1930’s become ever more relevant.