How Financial Crisis, Economic Inequality, Social Media, and More Brought Revolutions in 2011--and Changed Us Forever
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We're at an inflection point in history, a shift not just in our politics but our consciousness, says Paul Mason, BBC Newsnight economics editor, author and journalist.
From Madrid to Madison, Tahrir Square to Syntagma Square, London student occupations to Occupy Wall Street, Mason has covered the uprisings of 2011, and he found some surprising similarities everywhere. Those similarities are the subject of his new book, Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere (Verso), which combines economic analysis, first-hand reporting, and a theoretical understanding of technology, sociology and history into a potent explanation of why 2011 was the year of the protester.
AlterNet caught up with Mason in New York to talk about the book, the ongoing economic crisis, and what's next for the young revolutionaries of 2011.
Sarah Jaffe: Tell us what's happening in Greece; you just returned from a reporting trip there.
Paul Mason: The bailout they did Monday night, I think, is designed to do two things: to put off the inevitable moment of Greek default, and to save the rest of Europe from the impact. That doesn't mean that Greece isn't going to slide very quickly into a social crisis—rather, it's already in a social crisis. In the book I document what it's like for the youth who are waking up to the sound of helicopters, moving homes every two or three days; it's like being in the French resistance.
Now for the workers it's going to get much worse. People have a misconception that it's all about the public sector, but for the Greek bailout to work, private sector wages have to fall 15 to 20 percent. The minimum wage has been slashed by 20 percent.
On my last reporting trip I went to a clinic that's run by the Greek equivalent of Doctors Without Borders. It's aimed at migrants who've fallen through their social security network, and have no healthcare. Now it's swamped by Greeks who've also fallen through the network.
Their border with Turkey has become completely porous, it's a freeway in for migrants from all over the world. I met some of them clustered in an abandoned factory; it looked like a scene out of Modern Warfare 3. One of the guys there said something to me that stuck in my head. He said, “This is not Europe, I've lived in Europe, this is not Europe, this is Asia, police can kick you, the population hate us.”
At the bottom rungs of society you're seeing already breakdown. Every time there's a big demonstration, you're seeing very rapid recourse to policing tactics that completely break up the peaceful part of the demo. At best maybe there are 4,000, 5,000 hardline anarchist demonstrators in Athens. There were probably a quarter of a million on the streets the night before the parliamentary vote; they didn't even get a chance to assemble.
The IMF and EU and political class of Greece signed off on seven bailouts and two rescue plans. Nothing worked. And every opinion poll that comes out has the far left having 43 percent of the vote. Even quite sensible journalists look at it and they're in denial. They don't want to see this 43 percent but it's not by any means a joke or an accident. The stage is now set for an election which probably won't return a viable government.
The left can't govern—the Communists don't want to collaborate with anybody; they're the most moderate of the three left parties, the other two used to be together and they split. They don't want to form a government, and also they're frightened because what do you do? You still have to impose the austerity, so it's a no-win situation for everybody.