As we move into the last half of 2020 its time to evaluate the experiences that the first half has given us. The global pandemic, the upcoming economic crisis and the rise of the BLM movement are all characteristics of the extreme contradictions of the capitalist system that we live in. As the protests continue, a global economic crisis is looming and the pandemic is still decimating the American continent. It is time to ask: where are we heading? Do the broader masses have a plan on what is there to follow? Will they dwell into passivity and typical liberal reforms?
The Situation in the US: Dead End
BLM protests as a whole are based on the historical discrimination that Black people experience in the US. However, this discrimination has become more visible with time. Their synthesis with the current conditions has made them sharper than ever. As the results of a global pandemic crawl over the society leaving behind nothing but dust and rubble, we’ve entered into a transition phase that leads to an economic and societal dead end. Unemployment in the US reached 14.7 percent in April. A number which is translated into 23.1 million people. The same statistics suggest that Black unemployment is steadily higher than White. Especially in the 2nd quarter. Black people sum up 40% of the incarcerated population, despite being 13% of the general US population. In 2020 alone, 28% of the total police murders were against Black people, despite being only 13% of the total US population.Unemployment in the US reached 14.7 percent in April. A number which is translated into 23.1 million people.
We could keep going with statistics all day. However, this small sample describes the systemic problems of the present. Individuals can surely take the blame for the situation, however, their removal will be but a temporary solution to the aforementioned (and many more) historical problems. We should look at the roots that bring these protests into existence.
It is not to say that the defeat of Donald Trump will be in vain. For instance, a possible change would be the alt-right crawling back to anonymity and shadows, since they’ll lack validation from their president. This does not mean that they’ll not exist. In addition, historical inequality doesn’t get wiped away with the election of another president. Racial and economic discrimination are so integrated into this system that there is no possible way that we’ll see anything significantly different from Joe Biden. Society needs drastic measures for a drastic result. What does that mean?
Focus on Specific Reforms: Prison
We can draw examples from the way some institutions work. Prison is one. Liberal prison reforms tackle the surroundings and not the heart of the problem. Funding the police, state incentives, greater legal counseling, or prohibitions against prison violence have done little to amend the situation. Although some of these reforms were necessary, there is no significant progress. Using the current situation, the BLM movement can demand the removal of the vast majority of prisons (which are racially discriminatory) and enact a rehabilitative justice system. Obviously such a system requires prior amendments to the society, such as doing away with homelessness, poverty, and inequality, and thus it requires a lot more than just releasing prisoners. And this is where the focus should be to create a domino effect of radical changes.
It’s necessary that these protests show the sharp contradictions in our society and demand social reconstruction among state and non-state institutions. Liberal reforms are insufficient and we now see this on a daily basis. Radical reforms that hit at the root of inequality are needed. And for this, we need to know what we’re asking, looking into the needs of our society. Our demands should be specific and focused on the root of the problem. Lack of consistency can lead to disastrous effects. Let us turn to Greece as an example.
How Lack of a Plan Turned Around Greece’s Anti-Austerity Vote
In 2015 a referendum was held to decide whether the government should accept harsher financial measures from the European Union. Measures included further taxation, pension cuts, older retirement age, smaller public sector, forced privatizations, etc. Up to this point, there have been a series of turbulent negotiations between the Greek government (SYRIZA) and the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Former austerity measures by the previous governments had crippled Greece’s economy and society. In 2015 the unemployment rate was almost 25% , while the GDP has fallen from 300 billion in 2010 to 196 billion in 2015, while the Nazi party Golden Dawn was the third-largest party inside the parliament. At the same time riots, street fighting and peaceful protests were frequent outside the parliament building.
The Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis, was maintaining the position that another memorandum and more austerity measures were not the right idea. He was instead proposing a “haircut” to Greece’s debt and financial reforms. Having limited alternatives, the government choose to ask the opinion of the people on the latest austerity measures proposed by the Eurozone and the IMF. The government, but also the fascist party of Golden Dawn were favoring the”no austerity” option, while the opposition party was favoring the “yes to austerity.”
The overwhelming majority voted that Greece should not accept more austerity measures. No to austerity, however, meant a possible break with the European community. Did the government have a plan to accept a break with the neoliberal tactics of the Eurozone? There is no easy answer. We can say that SYRIZA had no plan or we can say that its inherent capitalist nature (being a mildly left party) did not allow it to break fully with the neoliberal and semi-colonial EU policies. Consequently, this “no austerity” was then turned into a direct “yes” by the government. In short, what this did was to show that “there is no alternative to austerity” and neoliberal reforms.
It’s not to say that Greece had a left-wing government at the time (definitely not as right-wing as the current), but the perception of the broad masses was that it was. As a result, this was perceived as a harsh defeat for the left in Greece. This government turned out to be a harbinger of a new set of neoliberal policies. More austerity measures took place and a cloak of fear and disappointment shrouded the society once more. The backtrack and the lack of a clear plan for the break with neoliberal policies gave the understanding that there can be no left-wing answer to right-wing politics.Lack of a clear plan for the break with neoliberal policies gave the understanding that there can be no left-wing answer to right-wing politics.
The purpose of this historical review was to show that political movements need to be ready to back up their demands. Even if that means pursuing a radical break with features of neoliberalism. It is tough to say how things would have unfolded had the “no austerity” option been respected. Greece is a country that heavily relies on tourism and external financial aid since it possesses no heavy industry. It is possible, however, that a concrete left-wing radical plan would have set the basis for a more prosperous future for the country.
Learning from Greece: Work Towards a Tangible Plan for Reconstruction
Although occurring in a different setting, the example of SYRIZA and Greece showed the results of the hesitation of a movement representing the struggles of people retreating back to a model of bourgeois solution.
This is something that should not happen now. The BLM movement should not be satisfied with just the removal of Donald Trump. The BLM movement should not be satisfied with liberal reforms that merely ease the situation temporarily. There should be serious demands for radical and systemic changes that will lead to a more secure future. Demands that would tackle economic insecurities and the historical and systemic repression that Black people experience in the US and all around the world. Reforms should not take the shape of a bourgeois model, but rather move away from it. Making steps away from neoliberalism and not moving around it can bring some effective results. There should be no backtracking and focus on the causes and the roots of the problems that plague society is essential.
Panos studied Law and International Human Rights Law in the University of Sussex in the UK. S/he is interested in politics, human rights and law. S/he lives in Greece.