by Paul Feldman
When trader Alessio Rastani told the BBC that “governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world”, jaws dropped in the news room at his brazen candour. Seven weeks later, Rastani is looking more right than ever.
The global investment bank’s advisors have in the past week taken control of the Italian and Greek governments, replacing elected administrations with faceless economists, academics and bureaucrats.
These events are nothing less than corporate-driven coups in the heart ofEurope, through which the financial markets have demanded and got the heads of government on a platter.
George Papandreou and Silvio Berlusconi were what they were, politically speaking. Their mistake was to try and ignore the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the leading lights in the European Union,GermanyandFrance, in dealing with their respective debt crises.
So they had to go.
In Italy, Mario Monti, former EU competition commissioner and advisor to Goldman Sachs for the last six years, was appointed prime minister by the ageing president Giorgio Napolitano, who undoubtedly got his marching orders from somewhere in the Brussels region. Monti is planning a cabinet entirely made up of unelected appointees.
InGreece, prime minister Papandreou was ousted by Lucas Papademos, yet another advisor to Goldman Sachs and former vice-president of the ECB. Both men are going to try and impose savage cuts in living standards to keep the international loan sharks – aka the bond market – at bay, temporarily.
Normally, when governments collapse, a date is set for a general election. But this right is also being denied the Greeks and Italians. Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, together with the markets, have declared that elections will take too long and may not even lead to a conclusive outcome. As for Papandreou’s plan for a referendum, don’t even go there.
Just in case you think this process doesn’t apply toBritain, let’s not forget that weekend in May 2010 after the general election here produced a stalemate. The Tories and Lib Dems were literally propelled into a shotgun marriage by the cabinet secretary, Gus O’Donnell.
He made it perfectly clear that the financial markets would not tolerate weeks of political instability inBritain. The ConDem coalition – a government without a mandate and for which no one voted – was the result.
The financial markets have effectively “bought” capitalist democracy, turned it into a commodity. They demanded and got deregulation from the politicians. And when they went bust, they demanded and got bail-outs. When governments have proved incapable of imposing the debt crisis on their people, an out-and-out takeover is the result in Athens and Rome.
So the democratic achievements of past generations in terms of the right to vote and influence course of events through parties committed to reform are negated. There is even less meaning to voting than ever before, as the people ofSpainwill discover next Sunday.
The corporate coups should drive us to renew the struggle for democracy. The global occupation movement, the revolutions in North Africa and the real democracy movement inSpainpoint the way forward.
As the present political system is ossified, alienated and generally in someone else’s pockets, then it follows that entirely new forms of democracy are needed. The assemblies that have been a feature of 2011’s uprisings are an experiment in democracy that actually works.
Democracy here is not an add-on, to obscure some other power relations but a conscious effort to do things better. The general assemblies have the potential to go further than the spaces they currently occupy. People’s Assemblies can become not just the voice but also the power of the silenced, disenfranchised 99%
They could reach out to neighbourhoods and communities and offer new forms of representation, participation and direct democracy. A network of assemblies could begin to draw up strategies and plans for a democratic alternative to the power and rule of the market capitalist economy.
Utopian? Yes. Possible? Undoubtedly. Necessary? Absolutely!