Brexit humiliated

The humiliation of Theresa May at the Salzburg EU meeting came as a shock not just to her but to the British media.  They had obsessed with stories, largely an invention of themselves, that foretold a story of the EU having problems with the Chequers plan but needing May as someone from the British side with whom they could negotiate.  The alternative was ultra-Tories like Johnson and Rees-Mogg.  Coming up to the Tory Party conference, the EU would see the need to help her deal with her fractious party so that a deal could eventually be struck.

Behind such invented calculations lay an implicit understanding that Britain was negotiating with the EU from a position of some strength, and a deal was equally vital for both.  Once again, unfortunately, the relationship with Europe was being refracted through disputes within the most successful political party in the world.  No one stopped to think what use Theresa May was to the EU with her unacceptable plan anyway.

The outcome was May giving a shell-shocked press conference at the end of the proceedings having suffered utter humiliation.  What had been said a hundred times before about the flawed plan was said again, and this time on social media with the EU Council President Donald Tusk offering cake to May on Instagram, but with no cherries.

British journalists cannot be accused of not being self-aware.  They are most aware of their position in the gossip chamber of Westminster with its paintings and busts of previous great British leaders who once stood astride a world empire.  They are aware that by being there they are part of this history.  As media creations themselves, they know that they are part of the show and that, after the important political personalities, the story is often about them, what they think and what they say. And what they think and what they say is a product of this environment, the environment of a great nation with a singular history.

So their views and their impressions are the great British public’s window into this world of high politics.,  When a sweaty Theresa May appeared in a cramped room in Salzburg desperately trying to recover any sort of composure in order to present some sort of reassuring message, the assorted British journalists reported what they saw in front of them – desperate humiliation.

This was easy because it’s not as if it was new – May has a habit of drowning on stage.  She coughed and spluttered for hours through her Party conference speech and stood as a rabbit in the headlights for weeks during the last general election, a very strong and very stable rabbit.

Both media and politicians were acutely aware of these unflattering optics, so May decided to have another go, and change them by making the same stupid speech again when she got home, this time in Downing Street, in front of wood panelling and two union flags.  A “stern word” was given, according to the Daily Express, and May warned the EU – she wanted RESPECT! – as she looked directly at the camera and gave everyone a “stern” look.

If only the words coming out of her mouth made any sense.

“At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals”, she said.  As if we had all forgotten that the reason we were only being told now that her plan was pants was because she had spent eighteen months trying to find one.  Not easy with the light shining in your eyes.

As if we had not also just heard her say in her speech, only seconds before, that in fact the EU had given her not one but two “counter proposals” and had, ad nauseam, explained to her that she could not cherry-pick the Single Market – the “detailed explanation” why her Chequers plan was unacceptable.

This nonsense after May had turned up at Salzburg having informed her EU hosts that this was the deal, take it or leave it.  She had met the Irish Taoiseach in the morning and told him that despite promising it for months, the British would not have a detailed backstop plan to prevent a hard border ready for an October meeting.

Instead, in her Downing Street speech, she said that “I want to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that in the event of no deal we will do everything in our power to prevent a return to a hard border.”  A statement so jaw-dropingly at variance with reality one wonders if she had taken some mind-altering substance before saying it.

But this sort of duplicity was also hardly new. Her Brexit secretary had already said that their Withdrawal Agreement with the EU committed Britain to nothing.  Her environment secretary Michael Gove speculated just before Salzburg that “Yes, the Chequers approach is the right one for now . . . but there’s one critical thing, a future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union.”  Why then could anyone in the EU believe that any agreement reached with these people would be honoured?

“In the meantime, we must and will continue the work of preparing ourselves for no deal” said May.  ‘So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”  Unfortunately, by saying that it’s now over to the EU, and that she will walk away from a bad deal, she really means that she won’t be going anywhere, or rather, with her strategy, she has nowhere to go.

Having threatened the EU with no deal, and then complaining that the EU were threatening Britain when starting to prepare for one, she faces the consequence that a no deal will only bring her utter discredit at a personal level and the UK a disaster at the economic and social level.  Her foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt aks the EU not to look at the “abyss’ of a no deal even while his leader is busy threatening it again.  Not since the sheriff in ‘Blazing Saddles’ threatened to blow his own head off has a threat seemed so bizarre, except this time it’s not funny.

Napoleon is often credited with saying that you can doing anything with bayonets except sit on them, although the quote has been attributed to Talleyrand, Bonaparte’s Foreign Minister, who said: “… My Lord, you can do anything you like with bayonets, except sit on them… “.  This appeared to mean that Napoleon had to make the decision to move forward with his campaign or die by failing to act.

Sooner rather than later someone will tell Theresa May that she can do lots of things by wrapping the butcher’s apron round herself, including making stupid speeches at Downing Street, but she will die a political death and take the UK into the ‘abyss’ if she thinks she can wrap it round herself and wait for the EU to come up with something to save her.

Her problem is that while you may be able to do lots of things with a flag there is not a lot useful you can do with Brexit.  May and her ultra-Brexit colleagues in the Tory Party have argued that Britain can make a success of Brexit.  So, unfortunately, does Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, but at least with them it is to be fervently hoped that 86% of the Labour Party’s members will save them from themselves, something the Tories will not do for May.

The EU says Brexit will weaken and damage the EU never mind the UK and no one will be a winner.  EU sources have also said that it’s not their business to make Brexit a success (even if that were possible) and it’s not in the EU’s interest to help the British become more competitive against the EU as a result of it.

The EU is of course correct.  It is much bigger and more powerful.  Trade with it is much more important to the UK than trade with the UK is for the EU. It has by far the bigger market, with a much more competitive productive base, and in those sectors it is not so competitive in, such as financial services, it is gaining by the relocation of companies from the City of London as the reality of Brexit bites.  Unlike Icarus, the hubristic Brexit project of a still greater Britain will never even get off the ground.

Britain can leave the EU, and can do so in a manner that may, or will, receive the cooperation of the EU, but only if the means by which it is done does not threaten the integrity of the EU and its Single Market. Despite it not being their problem, the EU has an interest in these steps being taken – the British can stay in the European Economic Area (EEA) or it can negotiate a free trade deal like that of Canada.

The latter will not make up for the market access lost by Brexit and will confirm the stupidity of Brexit.  Canada has its own regional free trade agreement in NAFTA so the agreement with the EU is an extension of its capacity to trade.  The British however, will be replacing one big trading arrangement with a much smaller one.

Britain could also negotiate access to the EU Single Market through the EEA, but this will mean subordination to EU rules, which the British can attempt to influence but cannot help determine.  The EEA also involves negotiations on what the EU will accept or reject so the problem is displaced into a more orderly framework but the fundamental issues of difference are not thereby resolved, and nor are all the problems created by the Tories’ duplicitous approach.

Theresa May will either have to capitulate or drive into the wall of a no deal.  In the first case she may be removed by the Tory Party before she can get away with it, and in the second case it would be better for her if she was.

The Brexiteers could replace her and either go for no deal themselves or do their own volte-face and go for the Canada type free trade deal, although in this case they are more likely to fall out with each other, as would certainly be the case when it became clear to them that this wouldn’t solve the question of the Irish border and further retreat was required.  Taking the blame for the disaster that a no deal would entail has so far prevented them from wielding the knife on May. The whole shower are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

All this would not be the case if Brexit made any sort of sense but of course it doesn’t.

So what about our side?

It is not the job of socialists to cheer Emmanuel Macron when he calls the Brexiteers liars, even when they are, or to wave EU flags, as if the EU was a force for good.

It is our job to oppose Brexit because doing this lies on the route to our alternative – the unity of Europe’s workers – not its capitalist states.  It is not possible to achieve this unity while accentuating national differences, by erecting national borders, and seeking solutions through nationalist initiatives.  ‘National sovereignty’, however understood, is not our goal.

The rise of xenophobia in Britain facilitated by Brexit will not be effectively countered by portraying its supporters as simply fascists that should be opposed, while having nothing to say about the Brexit they promote.  Or even worse, actually supporting their Brexit policy as some on the left stupidly do.

The socialist alternative is not about destroying workers’ living standards, wrecking the place and pretending we can start from scratch, in some misguided ground-zero approach unpolluted by foreign interference.  The Brexit disaster provides socialists with the opportunity to deliver an important blow against great British nationalism and it should be taken.

The disaster of Brexit should be condemned for what it is.  Its architects should be pilloried.  The alternative should be spelled out, which isn’t a good Brexit, because that doesn’t exist, but a defeat of the Tory Government and a reversal of the Brexit decision.  Not as the end of the struggle over Europe but as the starting point of a fight to unite Europe’s workers.

We should state clearly that the problem has not been too much European unity, but too little, and the wrong sort of what there has been.

The Greek Crisis and the Fourth International (6) – what is a ‘workers government’?

The problems arising from the perspective of a workers and farmers’ government have been shown by John Riddle, who has his own blog here and who wrote an article explaining the different views that arose when it was discussed by the Third International.

He notes that a typology of five was contained in the final resolution of the 1922 Congress, not all of which were considered to be real and genuine workers’ governments:

“Illusory: Liberal workers’ government (Britain).

Illusory: Social-Democratic Party workers’ government (Germany).

Genuine: Government of workers and peasants (Balkans).

Genuine: Workers’ government with Communist Party participation. (Germany).

Genuinely proletarian workers’ government (Soviet Russia).”

He notes that at this time three previous examples of workers’ governments had existed, “none of which fit neatly into this five-point schema. Thus:

“The Paris Commune, an elected revolutionary workers’ government at war with a still-existing bourgeois regime.

The early Soviet republic: as noted, a coalition regime based on revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The revolutionary governments of Bavaria and Hungary in 1919, where, as Chris Harman and Tim Potter have noted, “bourgeois power virtually collapsed…. The workers’ government came into being and afterwards had to create the structure of proletarian power.”

He records that some delegates to the Congress, keen to distinguish the illusory from genuine workers governments, proposed an amendment to the Congress resolution:

“. . . the German delegation . . . submitted an amendment distinguishing between “illusory” and “genuine” workers’ governments. The amendment also specified that the illusory “liberal” or “Social Democratic” workers’ governments ‘… are not revolutionary workers’ governments at all, but in reality hidden coalition governments between the bourgeoisie and anti-revolutionary workers’ leaders. Such “workers’ governments” are tolerated at critical moments by the weakened bourgeoisie, in order to deceive the proletariat … fend off the proletariat’s revolutionary onslaught and win time. Communists cannot take part in such a government. On the contrary, they must relentlessly expose to the masses the true nature of such a false “workers’ government.’”

“Although adopted unanimously, the amendment was not incorporated into the published Russian version of the resolution, which has served as the basis for translations into English. As a result, English-language comment on this issue, singling out Zinoviev’s position for attack, has criticised the congress for the very weakness that its delegates sought to remedy.”

“During the editing process, the congress text was progressively aligned with a “transitional” concept of a workers’ government. The final text sharply counterposed it to a parliamentary-based “bourgeois-Social-Democratic coalition, whether open or disguised”.

The final draft thus states that a workers’ government can be sustained only by the struggles of the masses – its enumerated tasks begin with “arming the proletariat” and end with “breaking the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie”.

“Communists should stand ready to “form a workers’ government with non-Communist workers’ parties and workers’ organizations”, the resolution states, but only “if there are guarantees that the workers’ government will carry out a genuine struggle against the bourgeoisie along the lines described above”, and subject to other safeguards.”

Riddle argues that “The clarity of this position was seriously undermined, however, by the simultaneous use of the term “workers’ government” to describe rule by bourgeois workers’ parties that, while introducing some reforms, acted as loyal administrators of the capitalist order. This concept was voiced mainly by Zinoviev, who thus managed to stand simultaneously on both the left and the right wings of the discussion.”

Riddell therefore thinks that a definition of a workers’ government that was put forward in a previous contribution to the discussion is useful – “a government of working-class forces in a capitalist state …. that objectively doesn’t rule for capital.” He considers that this is “consistent with the position of the Comintern’s 1922 congress.”

Given this history, it should not be surprising that much confusion has surrounded the whole idea of a workers’ government. Trotsky, while supporting it, described it as “an algebraic formula”, and it is unfortunate that too much of what is now called Trotskyism is governed by such formulas.  Trotsky noted that “its drawbacks, deriving from its algebraic nature, lie in the fact that a purely parliamentary meaning can be given to it.”

For Riddell , standing back from this history a little, “without a governmental perspective, socialist policy has no compass. Socialist strategy is then reduced to three disjointed elements:

  • appeals to capitalist governments to improve workers’ conditions
  • efforts to build trade unions and other social movements
  • hope that the situation will be transformed some day by revolution.

“What’s missing here is a path by which working people can take control of their destiny and build a new society. Demands for social reforms ring hollow unless capped by the perspective of a workers’ political instrument to lead in carrying them out.”

“The relevance of . . . [the] workers’ government discussion lies rather in alerting us to the possibility that working people should strive for governmental power even in the absence of a soviet-type network of workers’ councils.”

“The Fourth Congress decision suggest that workers’ efforts to form a government, far from representing a barrier to socialist revolution, can be a significant transitional step toward its realisation.”

As is clear from what I have written in this series of posts, I do not agree with this perspective.  The capitalist state cannot be expected to either give or allow workers real power, and “governmental power” is not real power for “working people”.

The capitalist state is not “a workers’ political instrument” and cannot lead them in taking “control of their destiny and build[ing] a new society.”  It cannot lead in carrying out social reforms that threaten the system, and ultimately it only makes them supplicants of the social reforms that do get implemented.

What is meant to provide glue to the “three disjointed elements” of socialist strategy which Riddell refers to, and which is in any case inaccurate and missing the element of workers cooperatives, is a working class political party.

As I have said, political crises will in future throw up occasions in which the political strength of the working class movement will be reflected in parliamentary majorities.  On its own this will not usher in working class rule, for this is something that lies outside both parliament and the state.

The potential for such a parliamentary majority to arise, and for it to be a genuine reflection of workers’ social and political power, will be exponentially increased if this power already exists through more or less extensive workers ownership and control of production, a strong and democratic trade union movement, and a mass working class party, which sums up, and seeks to give direction to, the general social power of the working class.  But in this case there will be no leading role for such a parliamentary fraction and it will be the struggle outside the capitalist state arena that will lead and be decisive.

Since this power is by its nature an international one and since this internationalism must reflect the consciousness of millions of workers, we can see that, absent this and absent an international movement that reflects this consciousness, at least across Europe, there could not have been in Greece any realistic hope that the struggle against austerity could give rise to a break from capitalism.

This does not mean the struggle was doomed, but that it must be constructed upon a different perspective of how working class struggle against austerity and all the other oppression imposed by capitalism can be repelled and a socialist alternative created.

Series concluded

Back to part 5

The Greek Crisis and the Fourth International (5) – the “standard approach”

Image result for syriza revolution

A common reference point in the debate on the way forward in the fight against austerity in Greece was the idea of a workers’ government as a bridge not only to defeating austerity but also to a “rupture” with capitalism.

For the FI majority, the fight against austerity created a political crisis requiring a political alternative, in other words a governmental alternative and a government of the left. It explained its approach in this way:

“So our approach to Syriza and the governmental question in 2012 was not an illusion, a hope, but an analysis of the importance of the issue and the need for concrete policy answers. This is a fairly standard approach for revolutionary Marxists.”

“Finally the conquest of the government, within a parliamentary framework, can, in exceptional circumstances, be a first step on the path to an anticapitalist rupture but, there too, this can be confirmed only if one government anti-austerity creates the conditions for a new power being pressed on Popular Assemblies, in the companies, the districts and the cities.”

The Greek FI section did not disagree with such a perspective in principle, but considered that a Syriza Government could not play this role:

“In this situation, the motto “workers’ government” becomes relevant. It is not applicable at once: it is even difficult to imagine its possible composition in the present situation. Nonetheless, it is indispensable to propose an overall political solution and to start to developing an understandable answer to the question: “who must hold power in Greece?”

“Such a workers’ government would have to put into practice a program against the crisis, would have to be ready to apply with key transitional measures, such as the socialization of banks and strategic sectors of the economy. A government resting on a general mobilization of the workers and based on their self-organization. A government that would regroup all forces ready to defend the masses’ demands. The revolutionaries would be ready to participate in such a government with other forces on the basis of a confrontational program and of a high degree of workers’ and youth’s mobilization. Because such a government would encourage the possibility for the workers to seize power themselves.”

“Under the present circumstances, and given the character of Syriza, a Syriza-government would not be something more than a mere left parliamentary combination, which is not the same as a workers’ government.” (For a program of confrontation with capitalism, for an independent anticapitalist and revolutionary party, 16 June 2012, by  Manos Skoufoglou.

The common pedigree of this perspective of both the FI majority and Greek section is the debate on a workers and farmers government that took place in the Third and Fourth Internationals.  I have already pointed to the incongruity of a perspective that involves “the conquest of the government, within a parliamentary framework, [that] can, in exceptional circumstances, be a first step on the path to an anticapitalist rupture” while also being considered “a fairly standard approach for revolutionary Marxists.”

I have also argued that the view that a left government could implement anti-capitalist policies and transitional measures that lead the overthrow of capitalism is mistaken.  Mistaken, not only because it confuses governmental office with state power, but also because of the idea that the capitalist state could be used as an instrument for transitional measures that entail the overthrow of capitalism.  It is fundamentally mistaken because it implies that the steps really necessary for socialism, such as workers’ ownership and control of production, can be contracted to the state who may then sub-contract them back to the working class.

For a genuine workers’ revolution it is not a question of mass mobilisation pressuring a left government, and the capitalist state it sits on top, to meet workers’ demands, including demands for economic control, but that workers have already substantially established ownership and control, or are in a position to make such ownership and control general. In such circumstances, workers are not reliant on the capitalist state giving them anything.

A common problem recognised in the perspective of relying, to greater or lesser extent, on a left or workers’ government to lead working class emancipation, is how to distinguish what might be called a workers’ and farmers government, considered as a means to implement ‘transitional’ measures, and left reformist governments which makes reforms valuable to workers and their interests but which will go no further than administering capitalism.

This problem also involves governments that concentrate power in the state, and take what can be considered ‘anti-imperialist’ measures against foreign interests, and even measures against certain domestic private capitalist concerns, but which again do not ultimately destroy capitalism or its state, and certainly do not promote workers power through working class ownership and control.

When a ‘standard’ strategy relies on the initiative coming from, and being determined by, a left government, it not only becomes a problem for analysis but also a problem for intervention.

That there will be political crises that will throw up occasions when the left will form an electoral majority and then take office does not make this the standard Marxist approach to the achievement of socialism.

A much better orientation in such circumstances comes from the pen of Engels:

“The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply.

What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time.

What to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement.

Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests.

Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost. We have seen examples of this in recent times. We need only be reminded of the position taken in the last French provisional government by the representatives of the proletariat, though they represented only a very low level of proletarian development.

Whoever can still look forward to official positions after having become familiar with the experiences of the February government — not to speak of our own noble German provisional governments and imperial regencies — is either foolish beyond measure, or at best pays only lip service to the extreme revolutionary party.”

Not a million miles away from Syriza and Greece.

Back to part 4

Forward to part 6

The Greek Crisis and the Fourth International (4) – for a Left Government?

The perspective of the FI majority in the fight against austerity was based on “the importance of forming a government to the left of Social Democracy in the next election for workers in Greece and throughout Europe. The arrival of such a government could increase their self-confidence and contribute, under certain circumstances, to a new rise in struggles.”

However the FI majority reject any charge of their having illusions in Syriza, because they called for a government that included the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the anti-capitalist Antarsya, which included the Greek section of the FI.  It absolves itself of responsibility for the Syriza betrayal and its demoralising impact because it was only “under certain circumstances” that “such a government could increase their self-confidence and contribute . . . to a new rise in struggles.”

Neither of these disavowals is very convincing, since it supported the Syriza government regardless of whether it included the KKE and Antarsya, and it supported it under the circumstances given at the time and not “under certain circumstances.”

The starting point of their perspective appears to be twofold, the first being that “the question that we were continually posing was the unity of the radical left”:

“The challenge is clear and decisive: it is necessary to defeat the Greek right and far right and to do everything so that the Greek left, of which Syriza is the main component, wins these elections, in order to create a social and political dynamic for a left government, which must strive to bring together all the forces ready to break with the austerity policy . . .  This government must be a government of the lefts . . . “

The second started from “trying to put forward a comprehensive political response that went beyond propaganda in a situation where the movement was raising the question of a political response and our positions obviously corresponded to positions in the Greek radical left.”

For the FI majority this left government would have ‘’to take anticapitalist measures, of incursion into capitalist property, nationalization of the banks, and certain key sectors of the economy, reorganization of the economy to satisfy elementary social needs. To impose these solutions, social mobilization, workers’ control, self-organization and social self-management are essential. Finally the conquest of the government, within a parliamentary framework, can, in exceptional circumstances, be a first step on the path to an anticapitalist rupture but, there too, this can be confirmed only if government anti-austerity creates the conditions for a new power being pressed on Popular Assemblies, in the companies, the districts and the cities.”

It is ironic that the FI majority dismisses the alternative of the Greek section because the self-organisation it depended on was “limited and marginal’, yet its own perspective depended on “social mobilization, workers’ control, self-organization and social self-management [which] are essential” in order “to impose these solutions.”

In other words, under the existing circumstances, and given the steadfast opposition of the EU etc., the perspective of the FI majority could not succeed, even in its own terms. Not unless it expected Syriza to whip up mass self-organisation, and with a view to seeking to challenge the Greek capitalist state in a situation of dual power.

But to have believed this really would have been to betray the illusions in Syriza that they are keen to deny.

The FI majority claim that the Greek section itself endorsed such an approach, and it records an article by one of its members which said that in the “situation in Greece, the watchword of workers’ government is becoming relevant. It is obviously not applicable now: it is even difficult to predict at the present time the possible composition. Such a government should be able to implement an emergency program to fight the crisis, ready to implement key transition measures, for example by expropriating banks and other sectors of the economy.”

But what this shows is that the Greek section considered this perspective and rejected it.  Unfortunately, it also shows the illusions that both the Greek section and the FI majority have in such a perspective.  And this is important because the FI majority are correct when it says “our approach to Syriza and the governmental question in 2012 was not an illusion, a hope, but an analysis of the importance of the issue and the need for concrete policy answers. This is a fairly standard approach for revolutionary Marxists.”

It is my argument that this “standard approach” is wrong.  Both opposition and FI majority betrayed illusions in the potential of the state to carry out revolutionary anti-capitalist measures, which only the working class has an interest and capacity to perform.

The Greek section stated that a workers’ government “should be able to implement an emergency program to fight the crisis, ready to implement key transition measures, for example by expropriating banks and other sectors of the economy.”

For the FI majority the crisis required “the implementation of transitional demands” and the left government would have ‘’to take anticapitalist measures, of incursion into capitalist property, nationalization of the banks, and certain key sectors of the economy, reorganization of the economy to satisfy elementary social needs. . . .  Finally the conquest of the government, within a parliamentary framework, can, in exceptional circumstances, be a first step on the path to an anticapitalist rupture but, there too, this can be confirmed only if government anti-austerity creates the conditions for a new power being pressed on Popular Assemblies, in the companies, the districts and the cities.”

As we can see, both perspectives required the self-organisation and mass mobilisation of the working class, when these were not of sufficient breadth or strength to make their perspectives viable.  And while both assign different weights to such a requirement, both assign a role to a left/workers’ government that glosses over the reality that such a government would sit on top of a capitalist state, and a capitalist state is not going to “take anti-capitalist measures”, in the words of the FI majority, or “implement key transition measures” in the words of the opposition.

In both perspectives it is clear that a workers’ government would play a leading role in what would be, as the FI majority note, “exceptional circumstances”, circumstances which somehow however become the basis for “a fairly standard approach for revolutionary Marxists”.

What should bethe standard approach involves recognition that the capitalist state, workers’ government or not, cannot be the mechanism for workers’ self-emancipation or even the overthrow of capitalism.  Electoral considerations are important but entirely secondary to the development of working class power and its eventual overthrow of capitalism, to be replaced by what used to be called the dictatorship of the proletariat.

None of this means that it is impermissible not to call for a vote for reformist parties or not to call on them to form a government, or to make demands on them to protect and advance workers’ interests.  It does not prevent Marxists defending such governments when attacked from the right, if this too is necessary to defend workers interests and their self-organisation. But this is a world away from seeking to make a left/workers’ government the lynchpin of the overthrow of capitalism and introduction of working class rule.

This “standard approach” has been informed by the debate inside the Third and Fourth Internationals on Workers’ and Workers’ and Farmers Governments, and I will briefly discuss this in the next and final post.

In the meantime, nothing I have said automatically precludes supporting a vote for Antarsya, or on the other hand, supporting the fight for a Syriza Government.  Neither does it mean that both are principles to be defended in all cases.  So, it may be correct to have voted for Syriza or to vote against it when it imposes austerity.  These are mostly questions of tactics and are in general determined by what will advance the self-organisation and consciousness of the working class and its opposition to capitalism and its state.

What the views above do reject is what the opposition describes as “the main conclusion” of the Greek experience, which, it says, is “the need for political and organizational independence from reformism”.

There is however no absolute requirement to be organisationally independent or separate from reformist organisations.  The following view of the opposition must therefore be rejected:

“A very old and dogmatic concept was repeated here: revolutionaries should stand alongside the working class in labour parties so as to gain their trust, and be ready to lead them out of those parties when the leadership betrays them . . “

What is dogmatic is to rule out that “revolutionaries should stand alongside the working class in labour parties.”  As I argued in a previous post, it is necessary always to stand beside the mass of the working class, whether in reformist labour parties or not.  Only in this way can Marxists play a role in the organisation of the workers within them, and the process of their becoming more than reformist.

Whether this meant being inside Syriza or not is not a question I can answer, and again is a tactical one.  But what I can say, is that if the decision whether or not to do so was based on the mistaken view above, there can be no confidence that the decision reached on this choice was the right one.

Back to part 3

Forward to part 5

The Greek Crisis and the Fourth International (3) – was there an alternative to Syriza?

Now that the two analyses – of the Greek FI section and the FI majority – have been reviewed we can compare and evaluate their arguments.

The first question asked was “has Syriza been an expression of the rise of the social movement?”

The opposition claims that “this is not exactly true’ while the FI leadership say that “we never said that Syriza was “the organization of the mass movement.”  Both appear to agree that Syriza had a limited mass membership and limited implantation in the mass organisations of the working class.  Both also agree that its main role was one of electoral representation, and both appear to agree that this role grew during the decline of the mass movement.

For the opposition, this growth was “an expression of its fatigue and deceleration.” The opposition also claims that “it has also been a reason for this deceleration”, although it does not appear to claim that the growth of Syriza was the main reason for the decline of the mass movement.

This creates a problem for believing that an alternative to Syriza could be built out of the mass movement; not just because that movement was in decline but because many inside the movement accepted the Syriza alternative.  Whatever its militancy and whatever its uncompromising opposition to austerity, many within it saw a Syriza government as an alternative; and as long as it put its trust in that party, and to the extent that it did, it may be possible to argue that it made it more difficult to develop an alternative that would be the movement itself.

What therefore came out of those mobilised against austerity was increased support for Syriza, so that the latter was an authentic expression of the movement, albeit one in decline.  There was, however, no other.

For the FI majority on the other hand, the election of a Syriza or left government was a strategic objective that would/could project the anti-austerity movement forward.  The FI leadership was “convinced of the importance of forming a government to the left of Social Democracy in the next election for workers in Greece and throughout Europe. The arrival of such a government could increase their self-confidence and contribute, under certain circumstances, to a new rise in struggles.”

This didn’t happen. The opposition did not think it would happen, and while the FI majority records its caveats and qualifications on its prescription and prognosis, at the end of the day the project of a Syriza/left government (there is an important difference but not an essential one) was its perspective, and it failed.  If nothing succeeds like success, nothing fails like failure.

However, while success also has many fathers, failure is an orphan, and the FI leadership takes no responsibility for the failure of its strategic perspective.  This would appear to be on the grounds that it was imperfectly achieved – the KKE and Antarsya were not also involved.  This however was not crucial for the viability of its perspective.

The next question asked by the opposition – “was there any strategic alternative to the proposal for a left government?

Before answering this we should ask a related question – was the betrayal of Syriza inevitable?

It is not necessary for this question to be answered in the negative for an alternative to be rejected, if such an alternative could be considered more likely to succeed.  The problem was, any proposed alternative had to come out of a mass movement in decline.  Even if the question is answered in the positive – that Syriza was bound to betray – this is really also to say that it could not be prevented because, among other things, of the decline of the mass movement, of which, according to the Greek FI, Syriza was but one expression.

But here it would be necessary to look at why the mass movement declined, why did the path it had taken result in decline in the first place?  However, this was not one of the questions posed in the debate.

An ostensible reason for the differing strategic answers provided by the opposition and FI majority is an apparent difference in their characterisation of Syriza.  I am assuming the FI majority held a differing opinion to the Greek FI section because it did not admit inevitable Syriza betrayal – and it didn’t warn of such a thing.

It did state reservations and give warnings, and it could rightly claim that ‘nothing is inevitable’, but at this level of abstraction this is to have your cake and eat it – argue for a strategic approach as one that will do most to advance the anti-austerity movement, while failing to point out its intrinsic weakness.  But we shall come to the weaknesses of the demand for a workers’ government later.

For the FI majority Syriza and the role it was playing was the way forward for everyone opposed to austerity in Europe:

“The victories of Syriza, like the advances of Podemos in the Spanish state, show the road to take in all the countries of Europe: that of building a political representation of the exploited, against the capitalist diktats.” (FI 8 July 2015)

For the opposition, the answer to the question – was Syriza something different from a reformist party? – was a clear No, and it quotes FI majority figures who claimed otherwise. The FI majority document is less categorical, and the qualifications it makes about the varied composition of Syriza is obviously true, and important for tactics in the Greek struggle.

But this is beside the point:  the FI majority gloss over the reformist character of Syriza by making it, not so much less than the sum of its parts, as treating it simply as a collection of its separate parts, as if no overall characterisation mattered.

The reason it does so is in order to fit Syriza into the mould of one of the “broad parties” that the FI wishes to construct generally.  Admitting that Syriza was a reformist party, albeit with a left opposition inside, would open the whole “broad party” perspective to rebuttal, for it would be to admit that it is not the ‘anti-capitalist’ politics of these ‘broad’ parties that matters, or that they are somehow to the left of social democracy, but that they can be fundamentally social democratic and it would still be necessary to orient to them if they have the support of broad sections of the working class.  And therefore, it is the latter that is decisive. Not only does the FI majority not advance this view, but it is also not argued by the opposition.

This all leads to the key question debated in the texts – was there an alternative to the Syriza in government project?

Since the Greek section of the FI thought that Syriza would not take the necessary steps to oppose austerity it believed that this perspective was fatally flawed:

“ever since 2011, SYRIZA has been declaring that the mass movement has shown its limit, and it is time to give a “political” (that is, electoral) solution. But no government can save the people . . .”

Its alternative is described in this way:

“The calls of OKDE-Spartakos and other anticapitalist groups for generalized self-organization was confronted with skepticism or sarcasm by the majority of the left, who argued that it would be invented and utopian to speak of councils or Soviets in a situation where such things simply don’t exist. . . . “

“However, it was not true that self-organization structures did not exist. The Syntagma square hosted a daily people’s assembly for nearly two months. The assembly formed sub-committees charged with various tasks. A self-organized radio station was installed on the square. Several every-day popular assemblies were created in different neighborhoods of Athens and in almost all relatively big cities of the country.”

“It was possible to build an alternative proposal based on those, limited but actual and important, experiences of self-organization. It was possible to call for assemblies in workplaces as well. It was possible to propose that local assemblies elect their revocable representatives and turn the Syntagma Square into a national assembly. It was possible to explain that this assembly represents working people much better than the parliament and the government, and should thus claim power for itself. It was possible, even if very hard, to put forward a concrete revolutionary perspective. But SYRIZA could only fiercely oppose this perspective, and the Communist Party as well. The anticapitalist left did try, but it was still weak and not well prepared.”

The FI majority make a telling response:

“Faced with a major social and political crisis, requiring the implementation of transitional demands, Manos persists in saying that the answer could only be the call for generalized self-organization. Although real self-organizing experiences existed in Greece in 2012, they were largely limited and marginal. The call for their generalization and, above all, for them to play a central political role, an alternative to the parliamentary system, could not be the answer of the day. If a demand of workers’ government could only, according to the comrades be propagandist, then what can we say about a slogan equivalent to “all power to the soviets“?”

The overall weakness of the Greek section perspective is revealed in their own words.  So ”It was possible to build an alternative proposal’, “it was possible to call for assemblies . . .”; “it was possible to propose that local assemblies . . “; and “it was possible to explain that this assembly . . .”  In summary “It was possible, even if very hard, to put forward a concrete revolutionary perspective.”

In other words, it was possible to propose self-organisation but it was not possible to propose to this already existent “limited” self-organisation to take political power because this self-organisation was very undeveloped. There was nothing like dual power and no contest over state authority.  The only forces arguing for such a perspective were, in the Greek comrades own words, “still weak and not well prepared.”  The comrades say that they did try, and there is no doubt that they did, but it obviously failed because the Greek working class was itself “still weak and not well prepared.”

The reliance on Syriza was fundamentally a symptom of this and not its cause, and the debate should have focused on why this was the case and what could be done about it.  But as I have argued, the FI majority starts from the needs of what it calls the radical left and the opposition starts from the need to implement a revolutionary programme, understood as a more or less short term seizure of power.  Both are obviously different but both clearly also have major similarities in failing to commence from the correct starting point – the consciousness and organisation of the working class, and not party constructs, be they based on party types or party programmes.

In the next post I will look some more at the FI majority strategic perspective.

Back to part 2

Forward to part 4

The Greek Crisis and the Fourth International (2) – the view of the FI Majority

The Fi majority reply to the criticisms of the Greek section opens the door on the major assumptions that lie behind its strategic perspective.

In relation to the first question posed by their critics – was Syriza, especially in 2012, an expression of the rise of the mass movement? the FI majority text says that –

“Syriza is the product of the regroupment of Synaspismos (Eurocommunist organization resulting from successive splits of the communist movement) and groups of the far left. Although the vast majority of the trade union movement was in 2012 organized by PASOK, the right and the KKE with PAME . . .  Everyone knows that in the 2000s, Syriza also had an anchor in the trade union movement (notably in education) and with trade union cadres from the KKE, a weaker base than the Social Democracy, the Stalinists and the right, but comparable to that of the far left.”

“And above all, Syriza grew among the youth, like all the radical left, with the rise of the global justice movement. In 2013, Syriza had 30,000 members, and even with militant criteria different in general than the extreme left, it cannot be said . . . that Syriza “has never been organically linked to the movement” because, seen from the point of view of activist forces on the ground its presence there was at least equivalent to the 3,000 activists claimed by Antarsya.”

“We never said that Syriza was “the organization of the mass movement.” On the other hand, yes, Syriza was between 2012 and 2015 the electoral expression of the mass movement of the popular classes, movement of opposition to the memorandum, electoral expression solidly rooted in popular neighbourhoods and localities.”

The author defends FI support for Syriza in the 2012 elections because of its 5-point emergency plan which included:

  1. Abolition of the memoranda, of all measures of austerity and of the counter-reforms of the labour laws which are destroying the country.
  2. Nationalization of the banks which have been largely paid by government aid.
  3. A moratorium on payment of the debt and an audit which will make it possible to denounce and abolish the illegitimate debt.
  4. Abolition of immunity of ministers from prosecution.
  5. Modification of the electoral law which allowed PASOK and New Democracy to govern to the detriment of the Greek population and to plunge the country into crisis.

The FI majority “were convinced of the importance of forming a government to the left of Social Democracy in the next election for workers in Greece and throughout Europe. The arrival of such a government could increase their self-confidence and contribute, under certain circumstances, to a new rise in struggles.” This was proposed on the basis of a united anti-austerity government of all major left forces.  However this FI proposal did not receive the support of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) or ANTARSYA, which the FI Greek section supported.

The author quotes a leader of the Greek section, that the call for a workers’ government in 2012 was “not applicable now”. This position is in contrast to the FI majority, which was “trying to put forward a comprehensive political response that went beyond propaganda in a situation where the movement was raising the question of a political response and our positions obviously corresponded to positions in the Greek radical left. Concretely, Manos and the OKDE [Greek section] leadership thought it unnecessary to present this global political response, which was also the case for Antarsya, who also refused even to respond to Syriza’s proposals for the “government of the left”, only calling for the development of struggles without raising the question of government.”

“Faced with a major social and political crisis, requiring the implementation of transitional demands, Manos persists in saying that the only answer could be the call for generalized self-organization. Although real self-organizing experiences existed in Greece in 2012, they were largely limited and marginal. The call for their generalization and, above all, for them to play a central political role, an alternative to the parliamentary system, could not be the answer of the day. If a demand of workers’ government could only, according to the comrades be propagandist, then what can we say about a slogan equivalent to “all power to the soviets”?”

“So our approach to Syriza and the governmental question in 2012 was not an illusion, a hope, but an analysis of the importance of the issue and the need for concrete policy answers. This is a fairly standard approach for revolutionary Marxists.”

In fact, the FI majority claims that this approach had been supported by a prominent member of the Greek section and provide a quote to this effect – “. . . [in] a situation in Greece, the watchword of workers’ government is becoming relevant. It is obviously not applicable now: it is even difficult to predict at the present time the possible composition. Such a government should be able to implement an emergency program to fight the crisis, ready to implement key transition measures, for example by expropriating banks and other sectors of the economy.”

In relation to the question – Was Syriza different from a reformist party?

The FI majority claim that “We have always said and written that Syriza was led by a reformist current . . . within Syriza there was a constant and concrete battle between these reformist currents and the opposition in which anti-capitalist and revolutionary left-wing currents had a certain weight. We also maintain that, in spite of the bureaucratic methods of the Tsipras leadership . . .  Syriza did not yet have such a strong crystallization of reformist bureaucratic apparatus linked to structures [of] local institutions or the state apparatus itself . . . On the other hand, the OKDE comrades want to make Syriza between 2012 and 2015 an organization equivalent to the social democratic or Stalinist parties.”

For the FI majority the task of revolutionaries was clear:

“The challenge is clear and decisive: it is necessary to defeat the Greek right and far right and to do everything so that the Greek left, of which Syriza is the main component, wins these elections, in order to create a social and political dynamic for a left government, which must strive to bring together all the forces ready to break with the austerity policy . . .  This government must be a government of the lefts . . . which starts to take anticapitalist measures, of incursion into capitalist property, nationalization of the banks, and certain key sectors of the economy, reorganization of the economy to satisfy elementary social needs. To impose these solutions, social mobilization, workers’ control, self-organization and social self-management are essential. Finally the conquest of the government, within a parliamentary framework, can, in exceptional circumstances, be a first step on the path to an anticapitalist rupture but, there too, this one can be confirmed only if one government anti-austerity creates the conditions for a new power being pressed on Popular Assemblies, in the companies, the districts and the cities.”

The document states that “the question that we were continually posing was the unity of the radical left.”  In doing this the FI majority rejects the charge that it supported the Tsipras leadership of Syriza.

In fact, the FI leadership claims that its approach was not so different from the Greek section: after the no vote in the referendum – “We were also obviously saying what the Greek Left was saying, whether it was the comrades of Antarsya or those of the left of Syriza, that the continuation of the NO would be a total break with the dictates, the cancellation of payment of the debt, nationalization and direct control of the entire banking system. The realization of these tasks could only be the result of popular mobilization. And we reaffirm that “the alternative for the Greek government will be the same as in the previous weeks: accept an agreement that will continue and aggravate attacks against the population or take another path, that of rupture . . . ”

Back to the previous post