Thoughts on the class struggle in Greece (part 2) – Towards a Revolution?

As I remarked in the first post, the views of both sides in the debate over the way forward for socialists in Greece share the view that there exists in the country the potential for a workers’ revolution.  This is not one that I share and the Greek Marxists provide the evidence that this is so.

First, Andreas Kloke notes the temporary defeat of the movement resisting austerity.  The slogan “Elections Now” by the two biggest left parties Syriza and the KKE “represents a strategic failure.” No big change took place in these elections between the right and the left and the electoral majority for austerity “reflects the real balance of power between the main classes in Greek society.”  Austerity continues to intensify and the fascists of Golden Dawn have grown to represent a real force.  The Greek Marxists are keen to emphasise that no one voting for the fascists can be under any illusion any more about what they represent.  On the other hand the vote for the coalition of which these writers are a part collapsed.  In presenting the fascists and revolutionary socialists as being in a race, he says “the fascists clearly have a considerable head start.”

Syriza does not represent a growth in the collective strength of the working class movement but rather “a collective mood” of opposition to the two traditional parties.  The memorandum imposing austerity is opposed by two thirds of society but only about one third support the left.  There is thus plainly a crisis of a left alternative.  This is a simple reflection of the low level of class consciousness and weak organisation of the working class in no respect fundamentally different from that in many other countries including Ireland.

Manos Skoufoglou notes that the organisations of the Greek working class are not prepared for a radical alternative to the various options that the Greek capitalist class and the EU may choose from.  In the most significant observation he says that “the working class is not questioning directly its (capital’s) economic power.  Workers don’t yet see the left as the political branch of their own class struggle, but as a body on which they “invest” their hopes.”  The fundamental problem is therefore the consciousness of the working class but this also exposes the utter bankruptcy of those on the left who argue that the basic problem is one of working class “representation” and needing to build an electoral vehicle to solve this problem. In the later view the problem is creating a means to represent working class consciousness not in recognising the weakness of this consciousness in the first place.

The real problem is that we are not facing a possible Greek workers’ revolution because, as the Greek Marxists say, “the working class is not questioning directly capital’s economic power”.  Until it does this all talk of revolution is empty rhetoric, not to mention the basis for seriously wrong perspectives.  This is illustrated by a big majority not actually wanting new elections.  So while many wanted to vote for Syriza many didn’t want the only means to achieve this.   A class breaking its chains to achieve political power would never row in behind such anti-political conceptions.

Yet other commentators on the revolutionary left in the Fourth International make the mistake of believing that the basic problem is the need for the left to take the lead in the struggles of the working class with a political programme of breaking with capitalism, one that becomes credible in the eyes of the working class.  But as I pointed out in two earlier posts here and here, political struggles against austerity including general strikes have not led in the past to revolutions.  In fact the Greeks have a record of such strikes that dwarfs the experience of others.  In this post I reported on an academic study that looked at 16 countries including Ireland, which recorded 72 general strikes of which 33 occurred in Greece alone!  Clearly this is not enough to build the material foundations for a revolutionary working class.

And this is the problem.  It is not the weakness of the Marxist Left that is the issue, for this itself can only be explained by the political weakness of the working class but the commentators from the Fourth International have nothing to say about this.  The transformation of capitalism into a new society becomes a question of political struggle only and becomes narrowly focused on one event which acts as a magic wand.  This magic wand is called revolution.  The comrades have no real understanding of revolution as the culmination of a long struggle by the working class to build itself up as a countervailing force in society, in utter opposition to its current class rulers and their state, in which revolution is the final decisive act of rupture inexisting society and birth of the new.  Everything involved in this extended process becomes invested in a single event that is expected to achieve what only decades of struggle, organisation and advances in consciousness can achieve.

Thus for these organisations revolutionary politics becomes believing in the immediacy of revolution, even when it is not immediately on the cards.  Everything else is reformism, to be supported of course, but only in so far as it quickly can become exhausted.  Because socialist revolutions are only possible given a prior development of the working class, and the political situation more widely, their politics become sterile and redundant.  They either collapse into pitiful reformism while talking revolution to their new recruits or they become dogmatists insisting on the necessity of revolution, which isn’t untrue, but which in the form expressed only confirms that it must be 12 midnight before we can move into the new day.  Not much use the rest of the time.

This is the choice presented in this debate and as we saw in the first part it leads to the raising of political demands which are predicated on their being a revolutionary situation when there isn’t.  The demands raised, such as who shall form a government, are thereby either wrong ,by claiming certain political forces like Syriza are more politically advanced than they really are, or are too abstract because they reflect an unacknowledged recognition that the perspectives offered have little traction in reality.

Many on the Marxist left put forward demands such as general strikes as if these on their own will raise workers consciousness and lay the basis for revolution, but they fail in Greece to learn a very obvious lessons that these strikes teach us.   For example Marxists see general strikes as posing the question of who rules society, the workers or the capitalists.  Through stopping society by laying down their tools they challenge the power of the bosses and question their right to decide what happens. Since general strikes cannot stop everything from working they involve workers in deciding just what is allowed to continue to work and what doesn’t and on what terms things like hospitals, power, water, emergency and other services continue to operate.

Yet Greece has seen dozens of general strikes.  If these posed the question of power the question has been answered repeatedly in favour of the capitalists.  The strikes therefore on their own teach this lesson and become very large protests, and protests are not an alternative but merely an objection to what already exists.  The idea that a frontal assault on capitalism today in Greece could be successful seems to fly in the face of this experience but that does not mean revolutionary politics have no role to play.

The alternative perspective of building up the independent economic, social and political power of the working class while recognising that this power does not yet exists is today what revolutionary politics is about because it relies solely on the workers themselves and does not lapse into the short cuts demanded by the perspective of those who see revolution as the only immediate answer to everything.  This need for immediate global answers leads many who call themselves Marxists to demand that the capitalist state do what these Marxists know in their bones the workers are not yet ready to do.  So we have calls for nationalisation as if this were socialist instead of workers ownership and control because the former is seen as more practical and realistic.

This failure to build a real workers’ alternative bursts open when capitalist crises erupt and it is clear that the Marxist movement has no real material, as opposed to theoretical, alternative.  This is why we get incredible admissions of political and general programmatic nakedness such as the following from one of the Greek contributors to the debate.

“The transitional program we describe is a quite sufficient counterweight to reformist projects of the virtually and possibly actually “governing” parliamentary left. However, it is not yet concrete enough. In order to convince against “realistic” arguments, which SYRIZA seems already to succumb to, if not actively spreading itself – that a unilateral termination of the memorandum would lead to international isolation, that expropriation of banks would provoke partners in the government to withdraw their support – we have to prove that a revolutionary counterproposal could also be applicable in practice. We have to study further examples and historical experiences of revolutionary struggles of the oppressed and the exploited: revolutionary measures in Russia, Cuba or China, autogestion in Algeria and in Latin America etc, even progressive measures applied by Chavez.  If anything, so as to depict in our own conscience the real potential of utopia. How can international solidarity practically eliminate pressures inflicted by the international vindictiveness of bourgeois classes? How can we achieve expropriations with no compensation without the universe to collapse? What exactly is workers control and how does it work? Particularly this last question is a key in order to conceive which is the essential difference between a radical left government and a revolutionary workers’ government.”

If the Marxist left cannot prove that its revolutionary politics can be concrete and will work in practice then no wonder it does not have the confidence of the working class.  For the latter to exist the working class would have to prove it in practice to itself through successful example of workers ownership and workers control in the here and now, not promises of utopias tomorrow after the revolution.  Yet the idea of workers ownership and control prior to the revolution is routinely dismissed by many of the Marxist groups.

Manos Skoufoglou states that “The maturation of objective and, what’s more, subjective preconditions for a revolution is not accumulative.”  While the class struggle can rise and fall in favour of the working class which may have to retreat or advance as changing circumstances dictate this statement is surely wrong.  Marx believed that social systems are born, grow, mature and decline.  That this is accumulative proves that the germs of the alternative society must develop and mature within capitalism and appear more and more in its life.

The increasing socialisation of production within capitalism, the increasing specialisation of production forcing greater planning within and cooperation between enterprises, comes into contradiction with the private appropriation of this production.  This is an accumulative process pointing in the direction of the end of capitalism.  The increasing division of labour and the increasing need and actuality of its coordination is constantly upset and destroyed by the pursuit of private profit which leads to periodic economic crises.  The new society of planned production appears more and more in the life of the old capitalism.

But planning is not the essence of the new society but merely a description of the mechanism by which it must work.  The essence of the new society is its rule by the majority of that society and not by a minority ownership class.  In the new society the working class as the vast majority becomes the owners of the means of production and becomes the rulers of the new society.  Socialism is not a state of affairs defined by complete planning but is the movement of the vast majority of society in determining how the society works and achieves its collective goals.  For the new society to grow out of the old and not just be a utopian project this aspect of the new must be increasingly found in the old.  This is the importance of the growth of workers ownership and control in existing capitalism.

If this really were more and more the reality of capitalism then questions above, like how workers control would operate, whether Marxists had a real concrete alternative etc would not exist.  Instead revolution would be sought by the working class itself as the only means of securing and developing across the whole of society the advances in workers ownership and control already achieved.

It is clear therefore that the key to revolutionary politics today is building up this independent power of the workers and not in millennial pursuit of revolution for which the objective and subjective prerequisites are not present.  How this is done in Greece is primarily but not exclusively for Greek workers and Marxists to determine.

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