Authorial Note: Pt. 1 available here

       Our socio-economic and political apocalypse will entail the downfall of entire countries, dramatic loss of employment, the entire decimation of public infrastructure, the loss of any sense of democracy, the loss of public and private property, the loss of public controls on medicine or food, the loss of public education, the increase in military spending- in short, a form of neo-feudal economic slavery, consisting of a global oligarchy of bankers, the state apparatus emptied of public investment in the service of the oligarchy, and the rest of the world’s population. rich-poor-inequality-neoliberalislmWhat Greece has become as a result of a simple inability to pay debt and making their population pay the debt of others with their lives is what is in the future for all of us who are unable to pay debts- whether those are our countries like the United States or Canada, or individuals such as students with student loans they will never be able to repay. We had asked the question “Why is the Greek debt crisis, and not the impoverishment of third world countries in much worse conditions, become in particular the obscenity for us in North America and Europe?” Our answer to this inquiry can only be that Greece’s debt crisis has become the real obscenity because only now is our generation waking up to the reality that what has been the state of the world for formally colonized countries will soon be shared by us– its obscene precisely because our colonial and neo-colonial projects are, like the chickens of Malcolm X’s prophecy, coming home to roost.

       What however, precisely, is the neo-feudal vision of the world whose prime exemplar to us is Greece? Economic theories while often too opaque for their own good sometimes are useful to understand if only to understand the moral vision of societies that are based in them. It is widely agreed upon that since the 1970s primarily much of the world, most especially North America and Europe have been moving toward neoliberal economics. Neoliberal economics, while the natural outgrowth of capitalism to be sure, has nevertheless gone beyond capitalism, for while capitalism proclaimed the supremacy of pursuing profit for the social good, in its most articulate and succinct definitions never dreamed of making the profit motive the centre of all political organization, only economic organization. Neoliberal economics consist of free trade (think of our character Greece’s union with his friends to make trading resources easier), deregulation of financial markets (think of Greece being able to print money and borrow excessively), fiscal austerity (think of Greece’s families having to pay for his financial mistakes by deprivation),  privatization (think  Greece having to sell his most precious resources like water access), and most especially have public governments divested of any ability to assert control, even for the public good, even democratically over financial institutions (lastly think of Greece having no way out). It is this last aspect where we come straight ahead to the oligarchy at the top of our neo-feudal order. ‘Not only is the selfish profit motive the key to a good economy, it is the key to a good world order’ argues neoliberalism. We are witnessing the apocalypse of a world run on this presumption.

     In the midst of this upcoming apocalypse however we have the voices of the radical ‘left’ and the radical ‘right’ offering ‘new’ solutions or visions around which we should regather and build once again a society from the ruin of an empire crumbling. The political ‘left’ in, around, and in support of Greece have proposed three methods in particular as ways out of Greece’s debt slavery: (i) proclaiming the debt illegal and odious, (ii) calling for a form of loan/debt forgiveness, and (iii) the occupation of public and political space.

     Zoe Konstantopoulou, a Greek lawyer who served as a speaker of the Hellenistic Parliament in 2015 is one of the foremost proponents of the first proposal  when she launched the Truth Committee on Public Debt and its preliminary findings conclusions were

“All the evidence we present in this report shows that Greece not only does not have the ability to pay this debt, but also should not pay this debt first and foremost because the debt emerging from the Troika’s arrangements is a direct infringement on the fundamental human rights of the residents of Greece. Hence, we came to the conclusion that Greece should not pay this debt because it is illegal, illegitimate, and odious.”

What is not always fully understood in these discussions is the precise legal meaning of ‘odious debt.’ Odious debt refers to debt incurred by a previous political regime that is deemed illegitimate. Therefore, declaring that debt ‘odious’ releases the new political state from not having to pay a debt that not only did they not incur but was actually against their interests. However, many are skeptical of declaring Greece’s debt odious because while much of it was incurred by an alliance with an unelected body like the European Union, it can hardly be said, as Alex Hern points out, that there’s some sort of comparison between it and the regime of Saddam Hussein, which is another more recent case of the concept of ‘odious debt’ being applied legally. Quite a lot can be said for the legal notion of ‘odious debt’ the problem however lies in what regimes qualify as ‘illegitimate’ and just how far this notion could be pressed. But there is a much deeper lying problem. Even if the debt were to be declared ‘odious’ what would this mean in terms of an economic vision? It leaves the entire neo-feudal economic vision completely intact. It does not challenge the primacy of capital, it does not challenge the supposed innocence of major creditors, it does not challenge the obsceneness of the primacy of debt as a political weapon of oppression- all the legal doctrine of ‘odious debt’ would appeal to is simply the impulse to say “That does not apply to us.” While for many countries the legal theory of ‘odious debt’ could be an incredible relief from their oppression, which we should never doubt, for others it can be used to avoid responsibility- especially if they had a hand in creating that odious debt- in either case, Greece proposing this would not challenge one aspect of the neoliberal economic vision for human life.

     The second major proposal of the ‘left’ is loan forgiveness, something which Nick Dearden rightfully points out, Germany herself received in the London Agreement of 1953 in the aftermath of World War two, receiving generous help with very light conditions from Greece even! The Syriza party of Greece in its Thessaloniki program in 2014 actually cited German’s example of loan forgiveness in 1953 in proposing its own program of debt forgiveness.  Loan/debt forgiveness has been a major proposal of economists and human rights activists in many different contexts for many decades now, seeing the devastating impact of old colonial debt upon many parts of the third world for instance. One should be marginally skeptical however of loan forgiveness, for while, much like the legal concept of odious debt, loan forgiveness can be of immense relief and in no doubt can have enormous economic benefits to anyone- now finally not having to invest all of your earning to pay-off debt (!!!)- it too can be circumnavigated and ultimately ineffective. 112913coletoonFor Christians in particular, who have done much in the way of the promotion of the Jubilee debt campaign for instance, this can be something very difficult to acknowledge. The concept of loan forgiveness however actually has very ancient roots and is itself founded on a particular notion of what the purpose of forgiveness is. Two examples of debt relief in the ancient world are the prescription for debt forgiveness in the Hebrew Bible’s Jubilee laws of Leviticus 25, and in the institution of Seisachtheia by the Athenian lawmaker Solon in the 6th century B.C.E. In both of these examples, the relief of debt and the ending of its accompanying slavery were temporary for the relief was imposed by coercive law, leaving the creditors extremely dismayed. As a result, creditors in Israelite society and Athenian society both found ways of circumventing these laws, and eventually making them null and void. Furthermore is it clear that the notion of forgiveness in these examples of debt relief, which contemporary campaigns from the ‘left’ draw from, is of a ‘restart’, a ‘clean start’, a ‘do over’, or a ‘mulligan’, as opposed to a notion of forgiveness that calls for a revaluation of the entire previous economic arrangement. The form of debt relief proposed while in the short term would do much to help the Greek people, it would only enrage the creditors to create new forms of economic slavery, for the forgiveness was done of expediency and guilt, not out of love and repentance. Germany, which was forgiven of much of its debt less than a 100 years prior became an example of Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant who choked his servant demanding for repayment, being unaware of that their own forgiveness was to be extended ‘from [their] heart’. Forgiveness is suppose to be the occasion for rethinking and repenting of an entire system of debt slavery, not the occasion for its continuing by permissiveness.

     The third proposal is summed up well by Tariq Ali  in his roundtable with Slavoj Žižek at the Subversive Festival, considering “When the Greek business began, I said, will they take a city?  The demonstrators, will they be strong enough to take Thessaloniki?…to show the rest of Greece, this is how we run a city.” Occupation of public and private space. What is most remarkable about this proposal is that it has emerged again but this time in response to an economic crisis rather than a military crisis. Yanis Varoufakis, the ex-finance minister of Greece, made this exact parallel, writing in reference to the military coup of Greece by the military dictatorship in 1967 and the Euro Summit of 2015,

“In 1967 it was the tanks that foreign powers used to end Greek democracy…in 2015 another coup was staged by foreign powers using, instead of tanks, Greece’s banks. Perhaps the main economic difference is that, whereas in 1967 Greece’s public property was not targeted, in 2015 the powers behind the coup demanded the handing over of all remaining public assets, so that they would be put into the servicing of our un-payble, unsustainable debt.

The economic crisis brought on by creditors, foreign banks, international bodies, and European institutions, felt to Varoufakis, with no exaggeration, like a military takeover, the invasion of a foreign power. In a neoliberal world, where the markets are the only ones who are unrestricted by law, those markets that hold debts, control currency, and control finances have the entirety of the power- in the case of Greece, it no longer has any sovereignty in any significant sense of the term, all its public and state property are effectively controlled by the economic policies set forth in their never-ending series of bailout packages imposed by their creditors. Occupying public and political space then in this context while at first strange given the lack of a foreign military presence, is quite clearly a rational response in so far as it is an attempt to regain physical control. Does this proposal challenge the neoliberal vision for society however? Unlike the legal concept of odious debt, and loan forgiveness as loan permissiveness, occupying public and political space does, at least symbolically, challenge the rule and reign of financial markets over all aspects of life- it does assert that some things belong to the citizens of a country, not the banks. Some skeptics may point out the futility of such a proposal against the military and police who would no doubt be enlisted to end such an occupation of public space, such as was the case with Occupy Wall Street in New York. But the measure of success for a proposal should be is its faithfulness to an alternative vision, not its success or failure according to the current vision of neoliberalism.

     What then, with these three proposals of the concept of odious debt, debt forgiveness, and occupation of public and political space is the alternative vision for society proposed by the ‘left’? The inability of debt to be inherited, perhaps the scheduled forgiveness of debt, and the reclamation of the idea of the ‘commons’ boil down essentially to the democratization of the economy where individuals are not subordinated to other people’s debts, their own debts, and all by virtue of being citizens have fundamental rights and property that cannot be taken by those who have economic power. It is challenging the neoliberal economy by arguing that the moral vision that society should follow should be one centred around the notion of the demos rather than the chrimata, around the notion of collective humanity rather than money. Under lying this vision is a deep, and frankly justified, mistrust of bankers and economists- arguing that their neoliberal vision of the rule of finance not only corrupts society but even the functioning of an economy itself. Should the economy be handed over to the people, in this case simply not the bankers, we would not enter into the frightful neo-feudal vision we are currently rushing toward. We as the people may need to draw upon, in the words of Canadian activist Andrew Gavin Marshall, “…indeed even a ‘global philosophical revolution’ of sorts…” but that we will emerge with a new vision. Is this vision however what will restore us and bring us through this apocalypse? Even more frightening however, will this vision be able to withstand the potent power of the vision of the Golden Dawn, and their ‘collective humanity’?