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

A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 4 – Wahabbi Islam

wahabimages

by Belfast Plebian

The ruling authority of the Saudi Princes can be traced back to a pact made in 1774 between one dominant Arab tribe and a Shia hating religious sociopath called Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab (1702-1792). The encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that :

‘ Abd al Wahhab’s teachings have been characterised as being puritanical and traditional representing the very early era of the Islamic religion. He made a clear stand against all innovations because he believed them to be reprehensible, insisting that the original grandeur of Islam could be regained if the Islamic community returned to the principles as first enunciated by the prophet.’

The pact intended that the clergy would be responsible for all religious-educational matters and the Al Saud warriors would be responsible for all political and military matters, including spreading an interpretation of Islam devised by Add al Wahhab. Unfortunately he describes both Christian and Jewish believers as sorcerers and devil worshippers, although he saved his real hatred for the other Muslim sects ie the apostates.

I am going to defer here to a historian who has written on these matters. I have on my book shelf a best selling book that I bought about five years ago by a historian called Reza Aalan called No god But God : the origins, evolution and future of Islam. He tells us that if it had not been for extraordinary political circumstances, Wahhabism would have passed away as a marginal and superficial sectarian idiocy.

‘Not only was this a spiritually and intellectually insignificant movement in a religion founded principally upon spiritualism and intellectualism, it was not even considered true orthodoxy by the majority of Sunni Muslims. Yet it had two distinct advantages, first it had the good fortune to emerge in the sacred lands of the ARABIAN PENINSULA, where it could lay claim to a powerful legacy of religious revivalism. Second, it benefited from a willing and eager patron, who saw in its simple ideals the means of gaining unprecedented control over the region. That patron was  Muhammad ibn Saud.’

The historian of Islam then tells us some important facts concerning the alliance between the two men, some of it is legend and untrustworthy but what we do know is:

The two men first met as Abd al-Wahhab and his disciples were tearing through the ARABIAN PENINSULA, demolishing tombs, cutting down sacred trees, and massacring any Muslim who did not accept their uncompromisingly puritanical vision of Islam….Abd al Wahhab’s holy warriors burst into the Hijaz, conquering Mecca and Medina and expelling the Sharif. Once established in the holy cities, they set about destroying the tombs of the Prophet and his first companions, including those pilgrimage sites that marked the birth place of Muhammad and his family…they set fire to every book they could find save the Quran. They banned music and flowers from the sacred cities and outlawed the smoking of tobacco and the drinking of coffee. Under penalty of death they forced the men to wear beards and the women to be veiled and be secluded.’

Then when much of the peninsula had been terrorised ‘they marched north to take their message to the Sufi and Shi’ite infidels. In 1802 on the holy day of Ashura, they scaled the walls of Karbala and massacred two thousand Shi’ite worshipper.in an uncontrolled rage they smashed up the tombs of Ali, Husayn and the Imams, giving particular vent to their anger at the tomb of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima.

What happened next was that the Ottoman Caliph sent a massive army to annihilate the Wahhabis. After some fierce battles, the Ottoman army restored the old order, ‘the Saudis had learned a valuable lesson; they could not take on the Ottoman Empire on their own. They needed a stronger alliance. …The opportunity to form such an alliance presented itself with the Anglo-Saudi Treaty of 1915. The British who were eager to control the Persian Gulf, encouraged the Saudis to recapture the ARABIAN PENINSULA from Ottoman control. To assist them in their rebellion the British provided them with shipments of weapons and gold. Under the command of Ibn Saud’s heir, Abd al-Aziz (1880-1953) the plan worked…After publicly executing 40,000 men and imposing Wahhabism over the entire population, Abd al-Aziz renamed the Arabian peninsular the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia….Here there was no debate between Modernists and Islamists, there was no debate whatsoever. Nationalism, Pan- Arabism, Islamic Socialism- none of these vibrant movements had a significant voice in the Saudi Kingdom. The only official doctrine that was tolerated was Wahhabi doctrine, any deviation was violently suppressed.’  

Now here is another BBC  iplayer film for the reader to take a look, it is called Bitter Lake. It tells us something of the still developing story of the connection between western imperialism and the ideological politics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At about 25 minutes in to the film we are presented with colour film footage of a meeting that occurred at the end of the Second World War, in February 1945 on a warship on the Great Bitter Lake, a part of the Suez Canal, between President F.D.Roosevelt and Saudi King Abd al Aziz. The voiceover says and I am paraphrasing a bit:

‘No one could possibly imagine the consequences of this meeting…The King knew that America needed oil ,Roosevelt wanted to forge an alliance between American industry and the Saudi King…The king was aware that there could be dangers posed to the customs and religion involved…we will take your technology and your money and political protection, on one condition, that you leave our religion alone’

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The pact in a nutshell was that America accepted the centrality of an unreformed Wahhabi religion in Saudi Arabia in return for unhindered market access to the oil and gas reserves it required for its industries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia represents an extreme form of what Leon Trotsky once referred to as the combined and uneven development of capitalism. A peculiar characteristic is the standing side-by-side in the same place of the very modern – advanced technology – and the pre-modern, ancient religion and barbarous customs

There is an aspect of this that is of some importance for our understanding of contemporary culture, the great divide between theoretical science and distribution of useful things. It is still the case with world culture that many societies appropriate all of the practical successes of science e.g. air travel, computer technology, phone technology, medicines, while blocking out all the theoretical innovations of the sciences that makes the many useful things available to everyone

This occurs even in America itself, most Americans are well clued into the various uses of technology, but a substantial number of them manage to completely neglect the theoretical claims of the sciences. The best example is the theory of evolution; in some surveys up to seventy per cent of Americans have dismissed it as real science. It is a happy accident that for such anti-intellectual people making use of the successes of science does not require them to know or care for the underlying theory. One result is that Wahabbis get to use modern technologies while screening their mind off from scientific theory, like evolution or the big bang. In our time we can experience the successes of science and technology without us making any intellectual effort.

The Saudi King and theocracy then decided that the Arab ‘socialism’ of Egypt’s Colonel Nasser was the new enemy to be contained. He had attempted to defy Britain and France by nationalising the largely British owned Suez Canal Company in 1956. The British and the French sent an army to take back the canal after conspiring with the government of Israel to instigate a phoney invasion of Egypt.

Hoping to take advantage of the instability in Egypt the Saudi’s began assisting the Muslim Brothers – who had been expelled from Egypt and from the other main Arab ‘Socialist State’ Syria. Our historian tells us that ‘the Muslim Brotherhood discovered more than just shelter in Saudi Arabia they discovered Wahhabism, and they were not alone. Hundreds of thousands or poor workers from all over the Muslim world began pouring into the Kingdom to work in the oil fields. By the time they returned to their homelands they had been indoctrinated into Saudi religiosity.’

‘Religious adherence to the Saudi model became the prerequisite for receiving government subsidies and contracts. The vast sums the Saudis paid to various Muslim charities, the foundations they established, the mosques, universities and primary schools they built – everything the Saudis did was inextricably linked to Wahhabism. In 1962, their missionary efforts gained momentum with the creation of the Muslim World League, whose goal was the spread of the Wahhabi ideology to the rest of the Muslim world…since the creation of the Muslim World League, the simplicity, certainty and unconditional morality of Wahhabism has infiltrated every corner of the Muslim world. Thanks to Saudi evangelism, Wahhabi doctrine has dramatically affected the religion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mawdudi’s Islamic Association, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to name only a few groups.’

The next episode brings us right up to date. During the American led 1991 Gulf war to turn back the ‘Arab Socialists’ conquest of Kuwait, then commanded by the dictator Saddam Hussein, a small group of alienated Saudi aristocrats calling themselves al Qaeda began to agitate for to return to the original founding doctrines of Wahhabism and turned against the Saudi Royal family itself, for permitting the corrupt treasure seeking American Crusaders open entry onto the holy land of Islam. They then defied the historical authority of the House of Saud by sending mostly Saudi born suicide fighters to crash civilian airplanes into the Twin Towers building in New York, starting a trans-national holy war against ‘Crusader Imperialism’ that has spread right across the Muslim world.

The Saudi rulers have a political/religious interest in common with the west in seeking to destroy the last bastion of ‘Arab Socialism’ in Syria. Western hostility is based on the fact that the regime is allied to both Iran and Russia. However the fighting boots on the ground that the West requires are all too frequently boots supplied with the stamp of the Wahhabi ideology imprinted on them

Today when the Gulf States are asked to explain their strategy to inquisitive western journalists about the removal of Assad and his regime they maintain that they are only financing and equipping foreign legion fighters who are deemed to be moderate in their religious belief. They say they are not helping Sunni extremists and mention various Sunni armies and militias they are not assisting. The distinctions are of little importance for it is the Wahhabi version of the Islam that unites all the fighters directly or indirectly connected to the Saudi political-religious theocracy. The division of moderates and extremists is a disingenuous western spin on the Wahhabi ideology. Behind the endless strife between many factions, micro distinctions and personal rivalries, there stands an intolerant and sectarian ultra conservative ideology.

Those western governments most engaged in the frequent desert military interventions maintain economic and personal ties to the same Saudi political regime that is primarily responsible for spreading the ultra-conservative Wahhabi ideology across the world Muslim community. The Saudi Princes deposit billions of dollars into western banks and investment funds; they maintain investments in corporations like News International and therefore in Fox News; and they buy up prime real estate like hotel chains, gulf courses and other prestigious sporting assets. At the same time they finance Wahhabi schools, build hundreds of Wahhabi Mosques, insist that only Wahhabi trained clerics staff them, and publish millions of books incubating their own very conservative version of Islam. They are estimated to be spending about six billion dollars per year on spreading educational materials. In September it was reported that the Saudi King had offered to build 200 Mosques in Germany to take care of the religious needs of the new wave of Syrian refugees entering the country.  It may be a good idea for the German government to decline the offer.

This brings me back to war torn Syria. If the Western governments are unable to put fighters on the will resort to all the nefarious techniques of cheating and lying to all participants, manipulating political friends, making political promises they don’t intend to keep, blackmailing strategic allies, rearranging the order of imperial priorities, and even arranging minor carnival stunts like the revenge killing of Jihadi John to save face. Killings ground that they can control, then they will fail to realise their primary ends.  Licensing the Gulf Monarchies to supply a foreign legion of sectarian Sunni fighters is no viable alternative. However the sociopath political leaders of the West are unlikely to quit what they started even though the initial plan has been thwarted. They like this attempt to say to a confused public that we are still on top of all this.

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.

Greece Crucified

ws jimagesAlexis Tsipras justified his humiliating U-turn, and commitment to imposition of austerity worse than he had just rejected, by saying that he had no mandate for Greece to exit the Euro.  Very true.  But he had just claimed that the referendum a week before had not been about the Euro.  By 61 to 39 per cent he has no mandate for austerity, which is what he said the referendum was really about.

He came into office promising an end to failed bail outs and has ended with a third one bigger than the first.  He called for debt reduction and now seeks support for debt inflation.

Such is the scale of the crushing terms of the latest ‘bailout’ that no one is attempting to say that it is nothing other than complete humiliation for Greece.  Even the Eurozone bureaucrats stated the truth behind the unpalatable words spewed out by their leaders – Tsipras had been subjected to “mental waterboarding” and had been “crucified”.

What has been mental torture for Tsipras will be brutal and catastrophic austerity for the Greek people.

I could write a whole blog on the capitulation of Tsipras and what looks like the majority of Syriza, and there would be good political reasons for doing so.  The policy and strategy of Syriza has been endorsed by Irish opponents of austerity such as Sinn Fein and these now lie in tatters.

In fact in my own view Sinn Fein is not even as radical as Syriza and this is an easy claim to substantiate.  It has already implemented austerity in the North of Ireland while hiding behind opposition to some welfare cuts.   In the South it supported the fateful decision to make the debts of corrupt banks and property speculators the burden of Irish workers and in doing so made the struggle against paying this odious debt much more difficult.

But there will be plenty of voices pointing out that what radical politics Sinn Fein has to offer have been trialled in a real life laboratory and been found wanting.  The capitulation of Syriza is in principle no greater than the Republican’s own acceptance of British rule in Ireland, acceptance of partition, surrender of weapons and dissolution of the IRA.  But that is all now a history that no one wants to talk about.

What is more important therefore is to try to understand what has happened and whether it could have been any different.  Not that it must be accepted that the ‘coup’ against Greece cannot or will not be resisted.  It can and will but it would be blindness to reality not to acknowledge that under Syriza the fight against austerity has suffered a demoralising defeat.

As that new aphorism says: it’s not the despair, I can take the despair.  It’s the hope.  Syriza gave hope.

Working out what has happened is not easy. For the man or woman on the street they see television reports of quantitative easing by the Eurozone involving the figurative printing of  millions of Euros by the European Central Bank, yet this same institution is involved in the vindictive pursuit of Greece for sums it could easily accommodate.

The proposals of the conservative leaders of the EU seem equally hard to understand or justify.  In fact for many they seem stupid, if not crazy. So draconian are they that they seem designed to achieve the very opposite of what they claim to be for.

The imposition of yet greater austerity when this austerity has demonstrably failed might be explained by ideological blindness.  And the humiliation involved might seem to invite rejection while being another attempt to remove Syriza from office.  But many commentators have explained that Syriza may possibly remain the only force that can push austerity through without complete chaos and collapse.

This humiliation is perhaps not just a message to a small and weak Greece but an unmistakeable one to a larger Italy and France: that the development of the EU will be under a model defined by Germany and its allies.  Yet even here the degree of malevolence can only invite small countries with parties equally blinded by reactionary ideology as Germany to wonder just what fate would befall them in an EU with such a definition of ‘solidarity.’

So while ‘good’ reasons might be found for what would appear to be ideological blindness the proposal for a “timeout” exit by Greece from the Euro appears as simply stupid; unless of course it is also a means of pushing Greece out permanently. But then it is such a stupid idea as justification that its purpose might only seem to be how open the imperial bullying can become, ‘pour encourager les autres’.

For the Greek people the surrender of even nominal control of their affairs is way beyond what has gone before.  The original proposal to ring fence €50 billion of Greek assets under German control,  to be sold at the discretion of its creditors, was such an open declaration of debt bondage as to render the humiliation utter and complete. What is yours is no longer even yours to sell.  Now it is reported it will simply be wasted on insolvent Greek banks with the needs of financial capital once again talking precedence not only over people but over real productive activities.

Thus in many ways, its failure to actually work being the first, its effects on undermining the legitimacy of the EU second and materially weakening the incentives to solidarity among its members third, all make the bailout deal a defeat for the idea of a European Union.  This is not even a European imperialism to rival the US, Russia or China but an imperial core and vassal periphery.

The price being paid seems so unnecessary because the main demand of Syriza – in order to give hope and reduce the impact of austerity, i.e. debt forgiveness, will be given and is already hinted.  Not in the shape of outright reduction but in the form of postponing or extending repayments and similar measures on the interest due.  After all, what cannot be repaid will not be repaid.

What matters however to the right wing conservative leadership of Germany, the Netherlands etc. is that their strength, and by extension that of the European imperialist project, is not diluted by the weak European nations and that the Euro remain in position as a world currency and not a vehicle for default and certainly not by what is considered an advanced nation.  Greece must be bled dry in order that the Euro remains strong and the pretensions of the EU remain in place.

The vision of a united Europe is not being abandoned by Germany etc, but it is one in which austerity is the bond that unites. It can be claimed that austerity will be inflicted on German workers if crisis hits the German banks; except of course that Germany has broken the rules before and would do so again.  It is easier to be ideologically blind when the price is paid by someone else.

Could it have worked out differently?    Syriza had hoped that enlightened self-interest would have combined with pressure from the US and the legitimacy gained by the referendum to mitigate the demands for austerity by Germany, The Netherlands and all the other little right-wing led states that curry favour with the powerful.  They have been rudely disabused of their illusions.

The more fundamental reason for this outcome is the weakness of the alternative at an international level.  Where were the left wing Governments calling for debt forgiveness, an alternative to austerity or even its reduction?  Where were the mass movements pressurising their Governments to accede to Greek requests?  Greece could not push back the demands of much stronger states on its own but on its own it was.

The demand for a revolutionary socialist alternative seeking the destruction of the Greek capitalist state and take-over of the Greek economy by its workers fails to provide any sort of immediate alternative, which is what we are discussing, for two rather obvious reasons.

Such a strategy relies on the aspiration and activity of the working class and the Greek working class neither desires nor is organised to destroy the existing state, create its own and take over the running of Greek production.  The anti-capitalist ANTARSYA for example got less than 1 per cent of the vote and Syriza, it should not need to be said, is not a revolutionary party.  How does a revolution arise out of this except through a long and painful process of learning lessons and making advances on this basis?

I was recently reading an article entitled ‘Marxism and Actually Existing Socialism’ written, what seems like a long time ago, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and which defended Marx’s theory and politics.  In it the author wrote that:

“Marx envisaged that socialism would come first in the most advanced industrial societies of Europe, and it has not done so. Arguably, however, Marxism is capable of comprehending this fact. In any case, this is a matter of detail, even if an important one; and it seems difficult to resist the conclusion that, in its broad and general outlines, Marx’s account of the historical tendencies of capitalism has been remarkably confirmed by historical events.”

But of course the coming of socialist revolution not to the most advanced countries is not a detail, not even an important one.  It has been fundamental to the development and future possibility of socialism and has led to the very definition of socialism being distorted and disfigured.

Socialism is not possible in Greece alone any more, and certainly less, than it was in Russia not least because it is too weak and poor.   It is obvious that no other working class within any other country in Europe is at a stage of development where it could either join or support working class rule in Greece.

This does not mean Syriza should not have taken office or that it should not have engaged in negotiations with the Troika. Its strength however derives fundamentally from the class consciousness and organisation of the working class and not from any superior moral position.  The building of an international European party of the working class, of a militant current within the working class movement including trade unions, and of international workers’ cooperatives is the only road to creating the foundations for a successful conquest of political power.

On the other hand capitalist economic and political crises and socialist propaganda are, respectively, simply the occasion for such a conquest and the means of spreading word of the need for it.

As I have said before: the worst result would be Syriza implementing austerity.  It should now reject the bailout, call fresh elections on such a platform and if elected pursue an alternative.  If in opposition it should develop a movement as set out above.

The alternative it should pursue is that which the Irish should have carried out in 2008.  Let the banks go bust and let its owners and lenders take part in a ‘bail-in’ in which they pay the price for their investment in insolvent companies.  This is sometimes known as capitalism.

A radical Greek Government would encourage Greek workers to turn the banks into cooperatives that would shed their bad debts into a ‘bad bank’ (like NAMA in Ireland, in theory if not in its practice) and guarantee deposits that would fund development of worker owned enterprise.

The Greek debt would thereby suffer default and the reactionary gamblers Merkel, Juncker, Schäuble, Draghi and Dijsselbloem would see where the chips fall.

The blogger Boffy has suggested that a solution to the currency problem would involve electronic Euros that would allow circulation of money without the requirements for additional notes etc. from Brussels.  While this could work for the domestic economy I cannot see how it could function as a means of payment for international trade and, while Greece is a relatively closed economy, it cannot function without it.

In any case the leadership of the EU would, on current form, expel Greece from the Euro and introduce its own capital controls on the country.

Greece would be forced into issuing a new currency, a new Drachma, which the people do not want.  This could not be done quickly or without significant disruption.  It has been asserted that the argument that this would result in devaluation and a massive reduction in Greek living standards is false because the catastrophe predicted has already happened.  ‘Internal devaluation’ has already achieved what external devaluation of the new currency would otherwise have done.

I am not convinced by this argument but this too might be academic if the EU decided that Greece would no longer be part of the Euro.

The strategy suggested therefore provides no guarantee of success.  There is no ‘technical’ solution or answer in this sense.   And why should one be expected?

I have said that socialist revolution depends on the prior creation of a working class power consisting of an international party, international trade union action and development of workers’ cooperatives on an extensive scale.  What on earth could substitute itself for these?

What is suggested is a strategy for struggle and not a ‘solution’ but we have reached the stage where not even the leaders of the EU can present false promises on this with any credibility.  Austerity will continue not to work.  Struggle is what we have.