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

The Greek crisis and the Fourth International (1) – the view of Greek Marxists

 

Image result for antarsya and fourth international

As I noted in a previous post, the debate in the Fourth International sometimes has a rather high-level and abstract flavour and the arguments of the majority and opposition often go past each other.  There appears no real engagement on what the differences signify.

However, the different approaches of the FI majority and the opposition come to the fore and are put to the test in two documents on the Greek crisis.  The lack of clarity and diffuseness of the main documents are left behind and the practical consequences of the alternatives are made more explicit.

The opposition document is written by the Greek section of the FI, which adds concreteness to discussion of events and assists in making an analysis.  In broadly accepting the evaluations of the forces involved and the significance of events taken, any alternative views of my own must rest on more general conceptions rather than an alternative understanding of the particular course of the struggle.

This means that my view must be seen as tentative.  This however is less important than it may appear since what I propose is a different view of the general strategic perspectives proposed.

The Greek section’s document asks a number of questions as a way of explaining its opposition to the FI majority’s ‘broad party’ policy and its particular expression in the shape of Syriza.  In doing so it counterposes building an independent anti-capitalist project ANTARSYA to the critical support offered by the FI majority to Syriza.

This review does not deal in detail with decisive issues such as the question of Euro membership, or the potential to limit, or repudiate the debt, or of whether socialists should have favoured nationalisation of the banks.  These are touched upon in other posts, including this one and the comments made to it.

The first question asked is – has SYRIZA been an expression of the rise of the social movement?

The reply of the FI’s Greek section is:

“Most international left people would reply “yes”, with no hesitation. SYRIZA represented the mass movement, and this is why we should have all supported it. However, this is not exactly true. SYRIZA did receive the majority of the votes of the working class and the poor strata, and this could not have happened if it wasn’t for the mass movement that developed in the country. However, SYRIZA was never organically linked with the movement. The party had always a very small membership, with particularly few workers and unionists. SYRIZA did never lead a single mass movement or workers’ strike, and its intervention in class struggles was always marginal. To present SYRIZA as a party of the mass movement is a myth. Its relation with the working class and the oppressed was a relation of electoral representation.”

The authors claim that Syriza’s electoral growth took place not during the rise of mass struggle but during its retreat, and that “one reason for this setback was definitely the easy solution that SYRIZA proposed: wait for the election to vote for a left, anti-austerity government. SYRIZA has not been an expression of the rising mass movement, but an expression of its fatigue and deceleration. And it has also been a reason for this deceleration.”

The second question posed addresses the crux of the matter – Was there any strategic alternative to the proposal for a left government?

The document states that “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 . . . 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.”

The text therefore argues that:

“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 Part as well. The anticapitalist left did try, but it was still weak and not well prepared.”

The third question is less important but is a recurrent theme in the approach of building ‘broad parties’ – Was SYRIZA something different from a reformist party?

The text observes that “militants coming from revolutionary Marxism have developed a large spectrum of theories to deny the reformist character of SYRIZA before it took power, in order to justify their support to the party. They were those who saw an anticapitalist party in SYRIZA. Alan Thornett was definitely not the only one who could claim that “the leadership of SYRIZA wants to trigger the overthrow of capitalism.”

“A different idea was that SYRIZA represents a new kind of reformism where “bureaucratic crystallization is not as strong as it is in the leaderships of the Communist parties of Europe” and “it lacked links to the state bureaucracy.”

The text argues that “in relation to its small size, SYRIZA had a large number of long-time national or local deputies, municipal councillors, cadres in the state’s apparatus, in the administration of universities etc. The only reason why the party was not more actively involved in the management of the system is that it was very small, and nobody would offer them this opportunity. However, as soon as SYRIZA appeared ready to win the election, it immediately adopted entire sectors of the social-democratic state, local government and unionist bureaucracy. As for its will to manage the system, there was nothing exceptional in the reformism of SYRIZA.”

The Greek section therefore sees itself justified in rejecting criticism by the FI majority that “”the comrades of the KKE and ANTARSYA made an elementary error in seeing SYRIZA’s proposal for a left government as something that would simply manage capitalism.”

So the next question posed by the Greek section is – would the election of a left government bring self-confidence and combativity to the people?

The text quotes a comrade of the majority that a “Syriza-led anti-austerity government of the left” would be “a workers’ government in Marxist parlance”, “a pre-revolutionary situation could quickly emerge if Syriza is elected and implements its programme.”

However, the Greek section states that “No progressive reforms or “emergency” measures were implemented. SYRIZA’s broken promises did not bring combativity, but disillusionment and confusion. Passivity and parliamentary expectations, both nurtured by SYRIZA and its supporters, had rendered the people unprepared for a new round of strikes. The resistance of the working class against the introduction of the 3rd austerity pact (memorandum) in July 2015 was weaker than the one against the 1st and the 2nd memoranda. The situation got worse afterwards. . . .  it is undoubted that the SYRIZA government did not favor workers’ mobilization. On the contrary, it was the government that managed to restrain, and thus suppress, social and workers’ reactions more than any previous one amid the crisis.”

The text further argues that “one of the innumerable arguments that always concluded that everybody should support SYRIZA is that, if SYRIZA fails to deliver on its promises, its base will revolt and follow the left wing of the party. People would trust the left wing more than the anticapitalist opposition outside SYRIZA, because it is with the former that they have fought together for years. 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. However, SYRIZA was never a massive party, with a vivid internal life and strong bonds between the leadership and the rank and file. The period is not the same anymore, neither are parties. The above abstract scenario failed altogether.”

Finally, the document dismisses claims that the FI (and other left organisations) did not support Syriza, and rather uncritically as well.  It complains that “no balance sheet was ever drawn of this huge mistake” so that the FI “avoids the main conclusion: the need for political and organizational independence from reformism.”

Image result for antarsya and fourth international

In the next post I will look at the reply to this analysis by the FI majority.

See previous post on the Fourth International here 

Forward to the second part here

Nationalist answers 2 – Greece

Greece imagesIn the last post I noted that one view on the Left in Scotland was that it was not possible to call for a vote or support for a reformist SNP because, through being reformist, it could not face down the intransigence of international capitalism when it tried to introduce reforms.

This would seem to be confirmed by the experience in Greece in which a reformist formation Syriza has just performed a humiliating U-turn and supported a third bailout that will impose greater austerity than that which it had previously opposed.

One of the many evaluations of this experience is here, which is also written by someone from the SWP tradition and which is based on the same political assumptions.  Unlike Davidson, who claims that the distinctions between reformists, revolutionaries and centrists are only understood by a relatively few revolutionaries, Kieran Allan argues that understanding such distinctions is vital:

“Ever since the crash of 2008, there has been an increasing call among activists to forget ‘old’ debates about reform or revolution. Yet the betrayal of Syriza re-opens this very question.”

One line of argument in response might be that Kieran Allen doesn’t actually advance a revolutionary programme himself – the SWP in Ireland doesn’t stand candidates in elections under a revolutionary banner but consistently stands as part of alliances that exclude it.  His definition of reformism applies equally to the various electoral projects of the left in Ireland over the past number of years:

“Despite opposing neoliberalism, Syriza embraced a reformist strategy. The term ‘reformism’ is not meant as one of abuse but it describes a strategy of using the mechanisms of the state to effect substantial changes on behalf of working people. It operates within the framework of capitalism and uses Keynesian economics to increase demand – rather than proposing the outright expropriation of capital.”

His criticism of Syriza can be made just as cogently against the United Left Alliance, People before Profit or Anti-Austerity Alliance:

“Some object to describing Syriza as a reformist because a) it leaders used a rhetoric about moving beyond capitalism and b) because there were avowed anti-capitalists elements within its coalition. However, this objection is somewhat facile as it was only in Bad Gotesberg programme in 1959 that the German SDP dropped their formal adherence to Marxism. In the early twentieth century many reformist parties combined a rhetoric about moving beyond capitalism as their maximum programme with a practice of seeking social reforms as their minimum programme.”

While he criticises the view “of democratising the apparatus of the capitalist state, transforming it into a valid tool for constructing a socialist society, without needing to destroy it radically by force’,” this is the alternative put forward by all these left alliances in Ireland.

This is certainly a problem but not the one I want to address here.  The latter is the problem of the strategy Allen puts forward as the alternative to Syriza’s reformism, not the similarity of this reformism to the SWP’s actual political practice.

Allen criticises “Syriza’s strategy of working exclusively through the state and through negotiations with the EU [which] could not match the courage of the Greek electorate.  This historic defeat, therefore, arose from a belief that control of the Greek state apparatus and appeals to EU solidarity was the method for bringing change. It never entered their heads to think about how the NO vote could be mobilised within Greece to physically face down EU efforts at blackmail. The sole agency was the Greek cabinet and its ability to negotiate with the EU bullies.”

Allen says that “they [Syriza] placed little emphasis on the role of Greek workers themselves taking action to break from capitalist control. . .  The mobilisation of workers in every area of society can stop the power of money and market forces.  Against the economic terrorism of the EU, people power and workers action is the only way to achieve change.”

When discussing lessons for Ireland he says that “In recent months there have been discussions about the need for a ‘progressive government’ in Ireland and interesting debates have occurred about policies. But there has been little talk about the methods by which such aspirations might be achieved.”

Unfortunately in reality neither does Allen, although this is the centre of his critique.  There are plenty of evocations of the need to mobilise workers to “face down the EU” but what does this mean?  What methods does he propose by which the aspirations of progressive change could be turned into reality?

What we have are calls to take action but total lack of clarity as to what action should be taken.

The first question is to identify the problem. And it’s not Syriza’s reformism.  Why is there a crisis in Greece in the first place?  Why not in Italy or Belgium – both have large debts?

The answer is well known.  Greece is relatively poor with a weak and not very productive capitalism. This makes not only Greek capitalism weak but its working class also weak, in a manner for which an increase in class struggle cannot compensate, or at least not very quickly.  This doesn’t enter Allen’s analysis.

The second question concerns the EU: “After the Greek crisis, the Irish left needs to drop any idea about the progressive nature of a social EU. It should note that Syriza was wrong to believe that it could combine an anti-austerity programme with support for the EU.  The reality is that the EU combines a soft rhetoric about ‘inclusion’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘respect for human right’ with a hard core neoliberalism that is embedded into its institutions.”

“The Irish left should, therefore, fully break with a ‘we will stick to the EU at any cost’ mentality because it was precisely this approach that gave the EU leaders a stick to beat Tsipras. Instead the left should advance its demands for a write down of debt, for nationalisation of natural resources, and a reversal of privatisation regardless of whether or not this is acceptable to the EU. It should indicate that it will not be bound by the rules of the Fiscal compact and that electoral support for the left means a mandate to defy such rules. It should make it clear that it favours the break-up of the EU in its current form and will seek its replacement by a federation of peoples based on democracy and control of capital.”

The EU is unreformable but if Allen has pretentions to Marxism he will also agree that the Greek State is also just as capitalist as the EU and also just as unreformable, yet he sees it as part of the solution through “a write down of debt, for nationalisation of natural resources, and a reversal of privatisation.”  Why would a capitalist Greece do this?  Is this not precisely the reformist approach that Allen excoriated earlier in his article? Or if an unreformable Greek state could do it why not a similarly unreformable EU?

He says that “Most modern European states are embedded in a network of EU institutions and so a strategy of working through the state also means working within those institutions. Syriza leaders correctly assumed that in an era of globalisation, there could be no purely national solutions to the crisis within capitalism.”

Yet in the proposals he advocates where is the recognition and incorporation of this impossibility of a “purely national solution”?

What we have in fact is the very opposite.  He proposes “A break from the euro [which] would have to be accompanied by a major programme to re-distribute wealth so that the costs of the change fall on those who can most afford it.”  But this is just the reformist programme he criticises while acknowledging that a new national currency cannot by itself be a solution. Yet a new national currency plus redistribution of wealth wouldn’t do it either.

Allen is right that any left Government “should [not] pretend that a different currency –such as the punt- can in itself solve problems. . . .  the key issue is not the currency but control of the economy.”  The problem, as we have seen above, is first that this economy is weak and second that the answer provided by Allen is always action by the state or rather by the national state, not internationally by the EU.

The nationalism that infects all inherently reformist projects appears explicitly in Allen’s perspective not just in rejection of the Euro or in rejection of the EU but in his support for “the break-up of the EU in its current form and . . . its replacement by a federation of peoples based on democracy and control of capital.”

This is something he “will seek” but as a policy it has no practical worth or educational propagandist value.  It simply states that a return to nation states and an end to capitalism is the answer and while the second is right and the first is wrong neither amounts to even the start of a strategy and adds nothing to any discussion of it.

This national road to socialism is made explicit in his statement that “it is possible to organise an advanced economy without a permanent need for substantial credit transfers. Ireland already has a high level of wealth but, unfortunately, its control lies in a few hands. Re-distribution of that wealth provides an alternative avenue to seeking ‘support’ from foreign creditors. Such a strategy does not preclude individual arrangements to access credit . Rather it suggests that a transitional economy that goes beyond capitalism would have to overwhelmingly rely on its own resources – rather than the type of EU ‘support’ that hung Greece.”

This in effect denies the international character of production from which there can be no going back and repudiates his statement that “in an era of globalisation, there could be no purely national solutions to the crisis within capitalism.” It asserts the opposite of everything that Allen professes to stand for.

He ends up arguing that “a transitional economy that goes beyond capitalism would have to overwhelmingly rely on its own resources” because the Greek crisis has not only tested and found wanting the reformism of Syriza but also exposed and found wanting the reformism within his own political conceptions based on action by the nation state.  In fact if anything, in its lack of any international perspective, it is worse than Syriza’s.

Nationalisation, redistribution of wealth and left governments astride capitalist states are not socialist solutions, even if in certain circumstances their effects can be welcomed and supported.  The example of Greece shows how one variant of such a solution can fail but the weakness of Greek capitalism placed major constraints on what could be done even if more could and still can be achieved.

Neither is nationalisation and redistribution by the state after a workers’ revolution socialism unless this state is the creation of workers themselves and not some minority party or group within it.  Freedom, as they say, is taken not given.

Socialism is the action of the immense majority of society, those who work and those rely on the wages of those who do so.  It is the actions of the working class that involve socialism.  It is not state ownership of production that is socialist but working class ownership that is socialist.  Before the political overthrow of the capitalist system and its state this must take the form of workers’ cooperatives.

The strategy of a purely political revolution, only after which comes social revolution; that is the strategy of seizing state power in advance of major gains in the economic and social power of workers achieved through workers ownership, leaves open the problem illustrated by the isolation faced by workers in the Russian revolution.

The alternative of more or less simultaneous revolutions in a number of economically advanced countries could only be conceived on the basis of a prior development of the economic and social strength and power of the working class on an international level.

This problem of isolation was and is faced by Greece but the socialism in one county approach of Kieran Allen is the wrong answer.

Seeking solutions at the level of the state in advance of the development of working class organisation at an international level provides the rationale for a programme which seeks not to advance beyond capitalist internationalism, which is what the EU is, but to regress from it mouthing fatuous phrases about international federations of peoples based on democracy and control of capital.