The European torch of discontent has passed to the island of Cyprus, where for the first time Brussels is set to confiscate part of citizen savings. To punish individual depositors for banks' irresponsible behavior is like taking food out of the mouths of children, and ups the ante on anything done so far by a failing system. (Large sums of Russian money are also involved, and perhaps Russia’s reluctance to help is part of Putin’s announced crackdown on citizens who stash money abroad.) Cypriots are the latest victim of the German-inspired policy of austerity, and their treatment can only cause other Eurozone citizens to wonder whether they will be next.
RT’s Rory Suchet today compared the situation to the French revolution (when Marie Antoinette famously advised peasants lacking bread to eat cake). He wondered aloud whether the fate of Cypriot depositors will fan the flames of discontent across Europe, especially in Greece, Spain and Portugal, but also in France, where President Hollande appears to be struggling against Merkel’s greater Brussels clout.
What I am noticing is the difference between the European and American 99%: the former take to the streets by the thousands over the increased cost of food or education, or loss of jobs, while Americans can muster at best a few hundred on any given occasion.
The difference lies buried in history: Europe has had two major revolutions in the last two hundred years, precisely the French and the Russian. Both were about the rights of the 99% and contributed to a tradition of strong unions (everywhere but in the Soviet Union itself) that endures to this day. Quite differently, the American Revolution was not about the 99%: today it would be called a war of liberation from a foreign power, and it was instigated by the fledgling country’s 1%. To speak of an American ‘revolution’ is misleading, not only historically, but in terms of contemporary social movements.
In Europe, to march, to demonstrate, to strike, are not decisions of last resort, but workers’ tools of protest always at the ready, while in the United States marches and demonstrations are undertaken by grass-roots movements which do not have 200 years of organized protests behind them.
The sad thing is that because mass action is not part of daily life in the seat of corporate/financial/military power, the European Union may not survive. If that is the goal, however, the result may be as unintended as those of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Libyan wars.