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Vol. 76/No. 20      May 21, 2012

Elections in Greece and
France reflect depth of crisis
(lead article)
The depth of the economic and social crisis in Europe—rooted in the worldwide contraction of capitalist production and trade—marked the May 6 elections in France and Greece. More working people and layers of the middle classes, whose living standards are disintegrating, are being attracted to what they see as the most radical currents that exist on the right and left of bourgeois politics.

The European Union, a trade and monetary alliance initiated and dominated by German imperialism, is being torn apart, threatening to set in motion uncontrollable dynamics.

Berlin has been leading austerity policies throughout the continent in an effort to postpone bankruptcy of the most heavily indebted countries. In both France and Greece, politicians and parties most closely associated with the austerity measures were rejected. These anti-working-class measures have devastated the lives of working people across Europe, especially in countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

In France, Socialist Party leader François Hollande was elected by a narrow majority against incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, the main EU ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s austerity course.

In Greece, the two parties that had championed the EU austerity pact imposed on Greece, the New Democracy and Socialist Party (PASOK), suffered a major defeat.

In both France and Greece, the elections were marked by sharp political polarization.

In Greece, the Coalition of the Radical Left or Syriza, a coalition of leftist groupings, including Renewing Communist Ecological Left, Ecosocialists Greece and Coalition of the Left of Movements and Ecology, came in second with 16.8 percent of the vote. Golden Dawn—a fascist party—pulled in 7 percent, getting 21 candidates elected.

Golden Dawn bases its appeal on discontent with “world usurers” and their control over Greece, fear of growing crime, scapegoating of immigrant workers and strong-arm demeanor.

In the April 22 first round of the French elections, the rightist National Front of Marine Le Pen scored 18 percent of the vote and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left Front, a coalition of various leftist organizations, garnered 11.1 percent.

The “far left” parties’ programs combine anti-German resentment with calls for more equitable sacrifice and increased government intervention in the capitalist economy.

At the time of this writing, no party in Greece seems able to put together a coalition government, raising the prospect of new elections in June. This brings closer a Greek government default on its massive debt, which would sever its trade and financial relations as part of the eurozone, the 17 countries that have adopted the euro currency. This would have cascading effects on capitalist finance in Europe, the United States and worldwide.

Frightened by the prospect of deepening class struggle, Hollande has put forward promises of what he has termed “growth.” He proposes increasing some government spending, tax breaks for smaller companies and the creation of a public savings fund to channel capital to business.

While saying that she was looking to “cooperate well and intensively” with Hollande, Merkel pledged to “stand firm on austerity,” the Financial Times reported May 8.

‘Call it a depression’

In an article titled “Call it a depression,” the May 2 issue of the British magazine the Economist depicted a stark picture of the economic situation in Europe. “Across the euro area,” it says, “the unemployment rate touched a new record high in March: 10.9 %, up a full percentage point from the prior year.”

According to the Financial Times, this was the 11th consecutive month of unemployment increase in Europe, for a total of 17.4 million workers without a job.

Unemployment, adds the Economist, is “high and climbing in the south. Youth unemployment rates are staggering—over 50% in Greece and Spain, 36 % in Portugal and Italy, rising sharply in all four.”

But worse is coming, according to the magazine. “Manufacturing activity is slowing sharply across the euro area, and the core is no longer immune,” with manufacturing contracting in France and Germany in April. “New order inflows tumbled at the fasted pace since December” and job declines in manufacturing now impacts both countries.

Massive lending to banks by the European Central Bank, notes the magazine, “does not appear to have prevented a sharp slowdown in lending to the private sector,” evidence that efforts to prod and prop up the capitalists’ financial system are increasing less effective.
Related articles:
Workers need own revolutionary party  
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