Class independence and the election in Greece. Critical support to SYRIZA
Socialists, communists and class conscious working class people should critically support the current election campaign of SYRIZA in Greece. We should, while not taking responsibility for the programme of a SYRIZA government, nevertheless support measures by such a government that are directed against the austerity directed from Brussels, Berlin and Paris, assuming such measures are enacted.
As is well known, a massive economic and political crisis led to two Greek national elections in 2012. The immediate issue was finally settled with an unstable coalition led by the main right-wing capitalist party, New Democracy (ND), supported by the main bourgeois-populist pseudo-socialist party, PASOK, and the right-wing splinter party from SYRIZA (or rather its immediate precursor) known as Democratic Left. That government enforced the Eurozone’s bail-out conditions, involving massive attacks on Greek workers’ wages and salaries, and what remains of welfare and public health provision, to the point that Greek society came close to ripping apart. There was a very dangerous and worrying growth of Golden Dawn, an outright fascist party that openly took its inspiration from Hitler’s National Socialists, together with a torrent of violence and racist terrorism against African and other migrants living in Greece.
The ND party, which narrowly achieved a plurality in the second election of 2012, was elected out of fear in the middle of a massive crisis. The dominant imperialist ruling classes in the Eurozone, of France, Germany and not least Italy, together with financial backers from the United States such Goldman Sachs, were very fearful of the possible election of a party that promised to defy their plan to ‘stabilise’ the Euro on the back of the Greek working class. They feared this would destabilise the Eurozone in the aftermath of the massive financial crisis that began in the United States in 2007. It is obvious that the depth of the crisis scared wide sections of the Greek population as well, enough on the one hand to cause a major shift to the left in mass sentiment, diminishing the support of PASOK and shifting working class support to SYRIZA. On the other hand, as is always likely in such situations, the crisis saw a rallying of more conservative and fearful sections of the population, particularly the middle class, around the main bourgeois current, ND, which managed narrowly to prevail electorally.
At that time, there was a fear that a Greek default could trigger other defaults and even the collapse of the Eurozone. The Eurozone has not come out the depression that resulted from the financial crash and the debt crisis that crippled its periphery, but some think it has in a way stabilised its depressed state, avoided a too prolonged shrinkage of its main countries and is now stronger as a result. Others are not so sure, and it is worth noting that the World Bank is now calling on the European Central Bank to engage in ‘quantitative easing’, in order to fend off the threat of the kind of deflation that crippled the Japanese economy for a whole ‘lost’ decade in the 1990s (some say this has never ended to this day).
Be that as it may, there has been no relaxation of attacks on the standard of living of the population in Greece, and the ND-led coalition has full responsibility for those attacks in the last three years. Plus the fact that familiarity with the continual sense of crisis breeds contempt among its victims, and strengthens the urge to do something to fight back. Over time, fear turns to anger even among those who previously were scared into supporting such a ‘stabilisation’ plan, and that change in mood floats upwards the fortunes of the parties that oppose these vicious attack on the working class.
The coming to power of SYRIZA, assuming it happens, would be a major independent act in a political sense by a section of the European working class. It will, assuming it happens, not in itself be a revolutionary development and there should be no confusion or illusions on that score. Even a government of SYRIZA alone would be a bourgeois government unless it was to base itself on mass organisations of the working class, analogous to the soviets in the Russian Revolution, and not the bourgeois state, and was determined to carry this out to the end. But that is a very long way from the left-reformist politics of SYRIZA.
But the political confrontation of the Greek working class with not only its own ruling class but even more so the chief centres of European capital has revolutionary implications, and it could well develop into an outright revolutionary situation in some possible variants. SYRIZA will be unable to deal with the implications of this, and if it does indeed take power and in office remain within the political framework of left reformism, it will risk demoralising its own supporters.
Danger of counterattack
If a ‘left’ government in Greece does not seek to take, in a pretty immediate sense, measures to reverse the austerity against the working class, and in particularly to encourage working-class independent actions to force the Greek and European ruling classes to concede such a reversal, it will lay the basis for a more vicious comeback by the right-wing than even we have seen under the austerity regime. Some may think that not much can be worse than what has happened under the regime of austerity, but what could be worse is the aftermath of a betrayed attempt to challenge austerity.
The fascist Golden Dawn, as well as the Greek military, are no doubt aware of this possibility. It is unlikely at this point that the Greek ruling class will call upon them to rule directly, as apart from other considerations as to the risk in the medium-term of even more damage to is class rule, this would itself lead to another major crisis with the EU. But they could play a more disguised, auxiliary role.
A fightback cannot possibly be waged without an attack on private property rights in capital itself, which again to be viable, has to take place on the European level, otherwise the Greek working class will find itself isolated, besieged and starved. Some on the left may say that the fact that the working class in Greece cannot successfully hold power without the assistance of the working class of the wider European Union, means that even if the political conjuncture within Greece were revolutionary, the working class should refrain from taking power until the broader European proletariat is ready to join them.
This argument is made by Eddie Ford in the Weekly Worker, as follows:
“The unfolding situation in Greece further reinforces the orthodox, classical Marxist view that the working class should not seek to come to power prematurely – and by that we mean not just in one country. Rather, we mean that the working class must have a reasonable chance of coming to power on something like a continent–wide basis and thus a realistic chance of implementing the minimum programme – that is our bottom-line perspective. If not, you are doomed to either carry out the programme of another class – carry out its historical mission – or become an agent of capital. Communists should therefore constitute themselves as a party of extreme opposition to austerity, not the instrument of austerity. And, unfortunately, as things stand at the present, there is no prospect whatsoever of, say, the Italian working class coming to the rescue of Greece – let alone France, Germany, Britain, etc. Hence we repeat our call for Syriza not to ‘take the power’.” (8 Jan)
The problem with this is twofold. The conquest of power by the working class initially in one country may well be the precondition of the revolutionising of the working class in series of other countries. There is no reason to believe that without a revolutionary intervention from somewhere, without revolutionary example, the class struggles in a whole series of countries are likely to synchronise without an example of ‘how to do it’ to the point that a simultaneous proletarian revolution is able to take place in several, decisive countries.
This scenario is very unlikely: without a revolutionary example to act as a guide, the dynamics of the class struggle in different countries are likely to be dominated by autonomous and spontaneous demands thrown up by economic and political life in those countries, and they are very unlikely to synchronise revolutionary situations spontaneously. Nor is it likely that a pre-built revolutionary regional or international mass party will be able to ‘decree’ that such struggles be synchronised: genuinely revolutionary mass parties are inevitably going to be built out of revolutionary struggles, and again, such opportunities do not necessarily synchronise.
The other objection is even more serious: if a revolutionary opportunity arises in a particular country, and a supposedly communist party consciously decides that the working class must not take power because the wider international proletariat is not ready to join it, such a revolutionary situation will inevitably turn to a counter-revolutionary situation. Such a counterrevolution, which could even result in something akin to a fascist victory, would reverberate around Europe in just the same way as a revolutionary victory would: but with opposite impact. Thus a party that refused to take power in this way in a revolutionary situation would betray not just the proletariat of its own country, but the wider European proletariat as well.
Given the history of Greece, and the provocative and violent nature of Golden Dawn, calling for the organised arming of the people to defend democracy and the project of the anti-austerity working class and left against counterrevolutionary forces seems an essential thing to fight for, that is likely to find wide support among even reformist workers.
The nation-state is an anachronism
The crisis of the Eurozone epitomises the crisis of modern-day imperialism in stark and concrete terms. Capital knows and feels in its bones that the nation-state is an anachronism, and constantly strains against its limitations. Thus you see initiatives like the Euro, which comes on top of many other apparently trans-national initiatives like NAFTA, the World Bank, the European Union, GATT, GATS, etc, that attempt to deal with the fact that the productive forces created by modern capitalism have long outgrown the limitations of nation-states.
But the bourgeoisie cannot abolish the nation-state, even as it tries to transcend its limitations. Its whole power as a class is derived from nationally based state power. Without that state power it would be defenceless against both its class enemies at home, and its competitors abroad, and it instinctively shies away from fundamental abolition of this state of affairs. Even within its supposedly trans-national institutions, the regime of capitalist competition still operates, which includes national competition. That includes the Euro.
It is upon this contradiction that the Greek working class, as well as the working classes of other European countries, such as Ireland and Spain, have been crucified. Greece has the economy of a semi-colonial nation. But according to European integration, it is forced to share a currency with Germany, the most powerful imperialist, advanced capitalist state in Europe.
In the event that the nation state were rationally transcended, European unity would result in the creation of a socialist United States of Europe, with democratic planning and the use of the productive resources of the advanced parts of Europe to improve the level of material wealth, and the living standards, of the mass of the people all over the continent. But even a capitalist fiscal union – a big step further than monetary union – is an outright attack on national state-power, not just a glorified international treaty, and thus viewed as highly problematic by the imperialist bourgeoisies in Europe.
Instead, we have the regime mandated by the Euro, where the ‘market’ dictates that relatively backward countries such as Greece must compete capitalistically with advanced Germany within that currency union. In this situation Germany has an undervalued country, the Euro, since without its currency tie with other, less developed parts of the EU, a German ‘national’ currency would be even stronger than the Euro. Conversely, Greece (and other nations in a similar position) are operating with an overvalued currency – since the economic strength of the more advanced parts of the EU make the Euro much stronger than any Greek national currency could be.
The juxtaposition of these two complementary phenomena mean a systematic transfer of wealth from the poorer countries of Europe, to the richer. German imperialism, and to a lesser extent French, is benefitting from the economic crucifixion of the Greek people. And that is inherent in the fact that capitalism is putting in place structures that vainly attempt to transcend the restrictions of the nation-state upon its productive forces, but cannot abolish it.
Even the least nationally-limited section of capital, the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie, which superficially seems to transcend such narrow particularisms, is powerless to overcome such irrationalities. Indeed, it has no interest in doing anything of the sort. Its capitalist ‘internationalism’ is in reality tribally driven; it specialises more than anything in promoting these kind of halfway-internationalist capitalist bodies such as the Euro, while pushing a wider agenda that leads more and more to the internationalisation of authoritarian neo-liberalism, and dragging the peoples of the world into deeper involvement in its pet conflicts in the Middle East.
No section of capital is capable of doing away with the nation state. That is the key lesson of the situation in Greece. No matter what the conventional wisdom about the supposed ‘death’ of socialism and Marxism, only the working class organised consciously under these banners can overcome the irrationality of today’s globalised, pseudo-international capitalism, by means of the good old-fashioned fight for genuine internationalism and worldwide working class revolution.