Instead of the Tories’ little-Englandism and Miliband’s shameful opportunism, let’s have a working class response to the present European crisis:
14 November: European unions to strike together (adapted from Workers Liberty)
By Ruben Lomas
Trade union federations in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Malta, and Cyprus have called general strikes for Wednesday 14 November.
Unions in France and Italy are also said to be considering calling mass strikes.
The Spanish union federation CCOO aid: “Unemployment, cuts, the impoverishment of the majority and deterioration of public services justify a general strike.”
The CCOO and UGT, Spain’s two main union federations, held a “social summit” with working-class community organisations, students’ unions and smaller trade unions to launch the strike call. Unemployment in Spain has reached 25%.
The European TUC has called for a “day of action and solidarity on 14 November, including strikes, demonstrations, rallies and other actions.”
The 14 November will be the 21st day of general strike action in Geece since 2009. Most general strikes have been for a single day, although some have lasted 24 hours.
This strike call is important. The European-wide natue of the crisis and the capitalists’ austerity agenda cannot be effectively answered by national action . A European workers’ response is necessary.
A day of coordinated strike action will help shift the struggle away from national movements trying to find solutions to “their” national economic crises, and towards a European working class response to a European bosses’ offensive.
14 November wil not be a magic bullet. As the Greek experience shows, even a series of general strikes do not necessarily topple governments or force them to change course. What they can be is a focal point and a platform for coordinating resistance.
In each European country, scialists must organise for the maximum possible rank-and-file control over the strikes. The direction of the action must be decided by the requirements of workers themselves, not some schema of the union bureacrats. Anti-EU posturing, letting national ruling classes off the hook (a favourite activity of Stalinist and nationalist anti-EU fanatics), must be avoided at all costs.
A European general strike as a one day spectacular, an excercise in letting off steam, will be a futile and counter-productive excercise.
In Britain, socialists and serious trade unionists should fight for our unions to be involved. Where possible, existing disputes should schedule action for 14 November.
If it’s not logistically possible, or doesn’t make industrial sense, to strike on that day, other actions should be organised.
Stewards should call workplace (or after work) meetings to discuss potential disputes and, in the public sector, a fightback against the pay freeze.
Lobbying the TUC to call a general strike on 14 November is unrealistic and counter-productive. All serious militants know that even a freak “general strike” call from the TUC would not, presently, get a response from the rank and file.
Instead, 14 November should be the focus for action that can be achieved around existing disputes, with socialists emphasing the European-wide nature of the crisis that we all face.
Calls for withdrawal from the EU can only be a nationalist distraction from what we need to say and do within the working class and society as a whole at the moment.
The Chávez victory in Venezuela’s presidential election last week, has been greeted with unbridled enthusiasm by some on the Stalinist-influenced left, and by a quiet gnashing of teeth and subdued wailing on the right. Others have taken a more nuanced view. There can be no denying that Chávez’s social programmes have brought real benefits to the poor. But the endemic corruption amongst the Chávista ruling elite, the lack of anything remotely resembling workers’ control of industry, Chávez’s unpleasant (but all too common amongst Stalinoid populists) penchant for antisemitism and some truly foul international alliances, mean that the regime cannot be considered ‘socialist’ except in the most debased and meaningless sense of the word. It is, perhaps, social democracy sui generis. The Chávez regime is also, quite clearly, what educated Marxists call ’Bonapartist‘ (to be precise, in the case of Chávez, “petty-bourgeois-democratic Bonapartism“).
Some Trots are very keen on Chávez, others slightly less so. Some are very critical indeed. But what would the Old Man himself have had to say? Well, we don ‘t need to speculate. Between Januay 1937 and his assassination at the hands of a Stalinist agent in August 1940, Trotsky lived in Mexico under the government of Lazaro Cárdenas - a regime very similar to that of Chávez’s. To pre-empt one obvious question about Trotsky’s generally charitable assessment of the Cárdenas regime: yes, of course, Trotsky was dependent upon the Mexican government for his survival and wasn’t about to do or say anything to piss them off. But Trotsky’s undertaking to Cárdenas not to “intervene in the domestic or foreign politics of this country” also meant that he was under no obligation to praise the regime: he could simply have stayed schtum.
As it was, Trotsky ventured some praise for the Cárdenas regime - and also some friendly criticism. But the crucial point is that he never recognises or describes the regime as ‘socialist.’ On the contrary, he writes:“it is not our state and we must be independent of the state. In this sense we are not opposed to state capitalism in Mexico; but the first thing we demand is our own representation of workers before this state. We cannot permit the leaders of the trade unions to become functionaries of the state. To attempt to conquer the state in this way is absolute idiocy. It is not possible in this manner peacefully to conquer power. It is a petty bourgeois dream…”
The article below is adapted and modified by Jim Denham, from an unattributed piece on the Workers Liberty website:
Above: Trotsky thanking the Cárdenas government (accompanied by cockerels)
Trotsky had been expelled from the USSR by Stalin in 1929, and spent the rest of his life trying to find a country which would let him live in exile. He arrived in Mexico on 9 January 1937.
Thanks to the efforts of Mexican Trotskyists, such as the renowned artist Diego Rivera, the Cárdenas government granted Trotsky asylum on the condition that he would not interfere in Mexico’s domestic affairs. Trotsky accepted this condition, in a statement on his arrival, promising “complete and absolute non-intervention in Mexican politics and no less complete abstention from actions that might prejudice the relations between Mexico and other countries”. (Writings 1936-37 p.86)
Trotsky was forced to break with the Mexican “Trotskyist” organisation, the LCI, after six months in the country, when the Mexican Trots (the LCI) issued a manifesto calling for “direct action” against the high cost of living, implying that workers should attack shops. Coming at the time of the Moscow trials and the attacks on Trotsky by the Stalinists in Mexico, this call by the LCI was particularly stupid. After Trotsky’s intervention, the LCI dissolved itself for the remainder of 1937.
Trotsky publicly supported Cárdenas’ expropriation of the oil industry. On 23 April 1938 he wrote to the Daily Herald in Britain, pointing to the hypocrisy of the British government and defending the nationalisation of oil of the grounds of national economic development and independence. He argued that the Labour Party should set up a commission to investigate how much of the “living sap of Mexico” had been “plundered” by British capital. (Writings 1937-38 p.324)
He also criticised some of his Mexican supporters. On 15 April 1938 Trotsky wrote to his closest collaborator, the US Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon: “Galicia, in the name of the revived League [LCI], published a manifesto in which he attacked Cárdenas for his policy of compensating the expropriated capitalists, and posted this manifesto principally on the walls of the Casa del Pueblo. This is the ‘policy’ of these people.” (Writings 1937-38 p.314)
Trotsky characterised the oil expropriation as a matter of self-determination. He wrote: “Semi-colonial Mexico is fighting for its national independence, political and economic. This is the basic meaning of the Mexican revolution at this stage… expropriation is the only effective means of safeguarding national independence and the elementary conditions of democracy.” (Writings 1937-38 p.359)
He compared “this courageous and progressive measure of the Mexican government” to the work of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the United States, adding that, “if Mexico should find itself forced to sell liquid gold to fascist countries, the responsibility for this act would fall fully and completely upon the governments of the imperialist ‘democracies’.” (ibid p.360)
He summed up his attitude thus: “Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defence.”
He reiterated his support, without losing sight of the character of the Mexican government: “The international proletariat has no reason to identify its programme with the programme of the Mexican government. Revolutionists have no need of changing colour, adapting themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working class organisation of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty-bound—to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings.” (Writings 1937-38 p.361)
A particularly important article of Trotsky’s, in the light of the current situation, is one on freedom of the press, which he published in the first issue of Clave magazine (October 1938).
In the summer of 1938 a Stalinist agent within the Cárdenas regime, Lombardo Toledano, began a campaign against the reactionary press in Mexico, intent on placing it under “democratic censorship” or banning it altogether. Trotsky was unequivocal in opposing this drive. He wrote: “Both theory and historical experience testify that any restriction of democracy in bourgeois society is, in the final analysis, invariably directed against the proletariat… Consequently, any working class ‘leader’ who arms the bourgeois state with special means for controlling public opinion in general and the press in particular is, precisely, a traitor.” (Writings 1937-38 p.417)
“Even though Mexico is a semi-colonial country, it is also a bourgeois state, and in no way a workers’ state. However, even from the standpoint of the interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat, banning bourgeois newspapers or censoring them does not in the least constitute a ‘programme’, or a ‘principle’ or an ideal set up. Measures of this kind can only be a temporary, unavoidable evil…
“It is essential to wage a relentless struggle against the reactionary press. But workers cannot let the repressive fist of the bourgeois state substitute for the struggle that they must wage through their own organisations and their own press… The most effective way to combat the bourgeois press is to expand the working class press… The Mexican proletariat has to have an honest newspaper to express its needs, defend its interests, broaden its horizon, and prepare the way for the socialist revolution in Mexico.” (ibid pp.418, 419-420)
Trotsky began to write about developments in the unions in mid-1938. Before a Stalinist-organised “Pan-American Trade Union Congress” in Mexico City in September 1938, which set up the Confederation of Latin American Workers (CTAL), he wrote (in the name of Diego Rivera) to denounce Toledano’s links with Stalin. He wrote that Toledano was “a ‘pure’ politician, foreign to the working class, and pursuing his own aims”. His ambition was “to climb to the Mexican presidency on the backs of the workers” and in pursuit if that aim had “closely intertwined his fate with the fate of the Kremlin oligarchy”. (Writings 1937-38 p.426)
His attitude seems to have hardened after the CTAL conference, when Trotskyists were excluded for their politics. He was also prompted by the increased attacks on him by the Stalinist bureaucrats in the unions. After Lombardo Toledano presented a dossier to the (Stalinist) Mexican trade union congress (CTM) in 1938, it voted “unanimously” for the expulsion of Trotsky from Mexico.
Then the August 1938 issue of the CTM magazine Futuro carried an attack on him by Lombardo, accusing him of organising a general strike against Cárdenas during the oil expropriations.
Trotsky distinguished between leaders and the unions: “Toledano of course will repeat that we are ‘attacking’ the CTM. No reasonable worker will believe this rubbish. The CTM, as a mass organisation, as a mass organisation, has every right to our respect and support. But just as the democratic state is not identical with its minister at any given time, so a trade union organisation is not identical with its secretary.” (Writings 1938-9, p.22)
Other attacks followed. The Mexican Communist Party (PCM) leader Hernan Laborde accused Trotsky of having links with General Cedillo (who had led an abortive coup against the government). The Stalinist agent Lombardo also claimed that Trotsky had met with fascists during a summer holiday trip. Trotsky’s response was to offer to participate in a public investigation into Lombardo’s charges.
Trotsky also sought to galvanise an opposition to the Stalinists, drafting a statement intended for publication. It stated: “[In Mexico] the unions, unfortunately, are directly dependent on the state” and “posts in the union bureaucracy are frequently filled from the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia, attorneys, engineers etc”.
He described the way these bureaucrats gave themselves a left cover by becoming “friends of the USSR”. He described how they kept control of the unions: “they ferociously trample on workers’ democracy and stifle any voice of criticism, acting as outright gangsters towards organisations that fight for the revolutionary independence of the proletariat from the bourgeois state and from foreign imperialism.” (Writings 1938-39 p.83)
Trotsky went further in November 1938, arguing that the trade unions in Mexico were “constitutionally statified”. He told his closest collaborators that, “they incorporate the workers, the trade unions, which are already stratified. They incorporate them in the management of the railroad, the oil industry, and so on, in order to transform the trade union leadership into government representatives… In that sense, when we say ‘the control of production by the workers’, it cannot mean control of production by the stratified bureaucrats of the trade unions, but control by the workers of their own bureaucracy and to fight for the independence of the trade unions from the state.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.791)
“In Mexico, more than anywhere, the struggle against the bourgeoisie and the government consists above all in freeing the trade unions from dependence on the government… the class struggle in Mexico must be directed towards winning the independence of the trade unions from the bourgeois state.”
He made it clear that revolutionaries would continue to work in the unions, even though they were partially integrated into the Mexican state. (Writings 1938-39 p.146)
He criticised the Cárdenas government’s second six-year plan in March 1939 for a participation proposal which “threatens to incorporate a bureaucratic hierarchy of the unions etc, without precise delimitation, into the bureaucratic hierarchy of the state”. He went as far as to characterise the unions as “totalitarian”. (Writings 1938-39 p.222, p.227)
This advocacy of intervention in even the most reactionary unions remained in all Trotsky’s articles until the end of his life. For example Clave carried articles in 1940 on the first congress of the STERM teachers’ union and on the 7th national council of the CTM, both characterised by little democracy.
Trotsky made few remarks on the nature of the Mexican regime in the first eighteen months of his asylum, and when he did, these were brief allusions. For example in the article on the freedom of the press in August 1938 he described Mexico’s democracy as “anaemic”.
He argued that “a semi-democratic, semi-Bonapartist state… now exists in every country in Latin America, with inclinations towards the masses”, adding that, “in these semi-Bonapartistic-democratic governments the state needs the support of the peasants and through the weight of the peasants disciplines the workers. That is more or less the situation in Mexico”. (Writings supplement 1934-40, pp.784-785)
What did Trotsky mean by Bonapartism? He had employed the concept to understand the regime in Germany before Hitler and to describe the situation in France in the mid-1930s. He summed it up succinctly in March 1935: “By Bonapartism we mean a regime in which the economically dominant class, having the qualities necessary for democratic methods of government, finds itself compelled to tolerate – in order to preserve its possessions – the uncontrolled command of a military and police apparatus over it, of a crowned ‘saviour’. This kind of situation is created in periods when the class contradictions have become particularly acute; the aim of Bonapartism is to prevent explosions.” (Writings 1934-35 pp.206-07)
In his discussion with comrades in November 1938, he explained: “We see in Mexico and the other Latin American countries that they skipped over most stages of development. It began in Mexico directly by incorporating the trade unions in the state. In Mexico we have a double domination. That is, foreign capital and the national bourgeoisie, or as Diego Rivera formulated it, a ‘sub-bourgeoisie’ – a stratum which is controlled by foreign capital and at the same time opposed to the workers; in Mexico a semi-Bonapartist regime between foreign capital and national capital, foreign capital and the workers… They create a state capitalism which has nothing to do with socialism. It is the purest form of state capitalism.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, pp.790-791)
Discussing the ruling party’s second six year plan in March 1939 (which had been endorsed by the CTM) Trotsky described how “the government defends the vital resources of the country, but at the same time it can grant industrial concessions, above all in the form of mixed corporations, i.e. enterprises in which the government participates (holding 10%, 25%, 51% of the stock, according to the circumstances) and writes into the contracts the option of buying out the rest after a certain period of time”.
Summing up he wrote: “The authors of the programme [i.e. the plan] wish to completely construct state capitalism within a period of six years. But nationalisation of existing enterprises is one thing; creating new ones is another… The country we repeat is poor. Under such conditions it would be almost suicidal to close the doors to foreign capital. To construct state capitalism, capital is necessary.” (Writings 1938-39 pp.226-227)
Trotsky never equivocated on the nature of the ruling party, including the character of the PRM (the “Mexican Revolutionary Party” created by Cárdenas). In his discussion with comrades in November 1938 he argued: “The Guomindang in China, the PRM in Mexico, and the APRA in Peru are very similar organisations. It is a people’s front in the form of a party… our organisation does not participate in the APRA, Guomindang, or PRM, that it preserves absolute freedom of action and criticism.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.785)
At the beginning of 1939, prospective candidates in the PRM resigned their posts and began to campaign for the presidency, which would take place in July 1940.
At the outset the candidates were Francisco Mujica on the “left”, Manuel Ávila Camacho in the centre and Juan Andreu Almazán on the right. The PCM and Lombardo threw their support behind Ávila Camacho, calling for “unity behind the only candidate that can defeat reaction”.
Trotsky condemned the support for Ávila Camacho offered by the CGT, and wrote: “At the present time there is no workers party, no trade union that is in the process of developing independent class politics and that is able to launch an independent candidate. Under these conditions, our only possible course of action is to limit ourselves to Marxist propaganda and to the preparation of a future independent party of the Mexican proletariat.” (Writings 1938-39 p.176)
Later he registered his attitude toward Diego Rivera, who had broken with the (Trotskyist) Fourth International and briefly supported Mujica. Trotsky wrote: “You can imagine how astonished I was when Van accidentally met the painter [Rivera], in company with Hidalgo, leaving the building of the Pro-Mujica Committee carrying bundles of pro-Mujica leaflets which they were loading into the painter’s station wagon. I believe that was the first we learned of the new turn, or the passing of the painter from ‘third period anarchism’ to ‘people’s front politics’. The poor Casa del Pueblo followed him on all these steps.” (Writings 1938-39 p.293).
Despite Mexico’s relative economic backwardness in the 1930s, Trotsky did not rule out the possibility that its workers might seize power – even before their counterparts in the US. (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.785) However he was concerned about a mechanical interpretation of permanent revolution as applied to Mexico by some of the LCI.
“The Fourth International will defend… [Mexico] against imperialist intervention… But as the Mexican section of the Fourth International, it is not our state and we must be independent of the state. In this sense we are not opposed to state capitalism in Mexico; but the first thing we demand is our own representation of workers before this state. We cannot permit the leaders of the trade unions to become functionaries of the state. To attempt to conquer the state in this way is absolute idiocy. It is not possible in this manner peacefully to conquer power. It is a petty bourgeois dream…
“I believe we must fight with the greatest energy this idea that the state can be seized by stealing bits of the power. It is the history of the Guomindang. In Mexico the power is in the hands of the national bourgeoisie, and we can conquer power only by conquering the majority of the workers and a great part of the peasantry, and then overthrowing the bourgeoisie. There is no other possibility.” (Writings supplement 1934-40, p.792, p.793).
Trotsky’s evaluation of developments in Mexico went through a series of stages and modifications, as the battle between the state and the working class was played out. In the last eighteen months of his life, in discussions with Mexican socialists, he further clarified his views on the nature of the regime and the ruling party, its relationship to the unions and on workers’ administration.
The first collaboration of note was with Francisco Zamora, a member of the editorial board of Clave who had also sat on the Dewey Commission. He was a professor of economics at the National University of Mexico and a member of the first committee of the CTM. Between October 1938 and May 1939 Zamora published a series of articles in the magazine Hoy, which contain some ideas influenced by Trotsky.
Zamora criticised the CTM and CGT leaders and pointed to how their bourgeois politics had accommodated with the Mexican state. He argued that the Mexican revolution, particularly in its agrarian relations, was unfinished. However he predicted that Ávila Camacho would not continue the work of Cárdenas, but rather destroy it.
Zamora also discussed the way the state represented the interests of the dominant class, although during periods of stalemate allowed the state “a certain momentary independence” – alluding to the idea of Bonapartism.
Around the same time Trotsky held discussions with the Mexican Marxist Octavio Fernández on the nature of the Mexican revolution. Between February and April 1939, Fernández published three articles in Clave with a wealth of statistical material dealing concretely with the Mexican social formation and in particular with the peasantry and the working class.
Fernández distinguished between the military-police form of Bonapartism of the Calles period and the “petty-bourgeois-democratic Bonapartism” of Cárdenas. He also argued that the expropriation of the oil industry was made possible by the international crisis of relations between the imperialist powers. He believed that further expropriations were unlikely as long as a bourgeois government was in power in Mexico. He nevertheless urged workers to push the nationalisations as far as possible, to press the government not to pay compensation, to set up control committees in factories and for price control committees. (León Trotsky, Escritos Latinamericanos 1999 pp.233-234)
In a later article in Clave, ‘Qué ha sido y adónde va la revolución mexicana’ (November-December 1939), Fernández warned that in Mexico, everyone was a “revolutionary” and for “the revolution”. This was because the Mexican revolution (1910-20) was “aborted”, in the sense of an unfinished bourgeois revolution – but in a country where the working class was increasingly becoming an independent factor.
Probably Trotsky’s most important discussion took place with Rodrigo García Treviño, an official at the CTM. Following the exchange, Trotsky wrote a paper on whether revolutionaries should participate in the workers’ administration established in the nationalised rail and oil industries (reprinted here). The key passage is this:
“The nationalization of railways and oil fields in Mexico has of course nothing in common with socialism. It is a measure of state capitalism in a backward country which in this way seeks to defend itself on the one hand against foreign imperialism and on the other against its own proletariat. The management of railways, oil fields, etcetera, through labor organizations has nothing in common with workers’ control over industry, for in the essence of the matter the management is effected through the labor bureaucracy which is independent of the workers, but in return, completely dependent on the bourgeois state. This measure on the part of the ruling class pursues the aim of disciplining the working class, making it more industrious in the service of the common interests of the state, which appear on the surface to merge with the interests of the working class itself. As a matter of fact, the whole task of the bourgeoisie consists in liquidating the trade unions as organs of the class struggle and substituting in their place the trade union bureaucracy as the organ of the leadership over the workers by the bourgeois state. In these conditions, the task of the revolutionary vanguard is to conduct a struggle for the complete independence of the trade unions and for the introduction of actual workers’ control over the present union bureaucracy, which has been turned into the administration of railways, oil enterprises and so on.”
García Treviño wrote an article quoting (anonymously) passages from Trotsky’s document – including on Bonapartism sui generis and the concluding emphasis on the need for a revolutionary party. He praised the workers’ administration as just as efficient as under the previous management — for example by centralising production — and rejecting the hostility of the Stalinists towards it.
But he pointed out that in the rail industry, workers had also been saddled with the old debts of the company. He criticised the form of control because it could not break out of the laws of the bourgeois economy, the firm was bankrupt and because compensation was paid. He said that although workers had a bigger say in the industries, the state remained in control and pointed out that cooperatives could be a “cruel and merciless” form of exploitation of the working class.
Trotsky was unable to add much over the next year. The world was sucked into another global war and as hostilities began, a huge faction fight took place in the Trotskyist organisation in the United States, the SWP. On top of that, the Stalinists in Mexico stepped up their attacks on Trotsky’s asylum and prepared the ground for the GPU assassins to do their work.
For example PCM leader Laborde accused Trotsky of involvement in a rail crash in its paper La Voz de Mexico in April 1939. Lombardo’s press, including Futuro magazine and the daily paper El Popular slandered him during the early months on 1940. Trotsky again proposed a public commission of investigation of the charges.
On 24 May 1940 a serious attempt was made to murder Trotsky, with the Stalinist painter David Siqueiros leading an armed assault on his house at night.
Accused of slandering the Stalinists, Trotsky offered to take the matter to court. He identified the role of the GPU, which had begun making plans to kill him from April 1939. These plans were stepped up by Vittorio Cordovilla, a Stalinist agent who arrived in Mexico in late 1939 and organised a purge of the party (including its leaders Laborde and Campa) for not prosecuting the anti-Trotsky campaign hard enough. Within months of this intervention, Trotsky’s life was ended by a Stalinist ice axe to the head.
On Trotsky’s desk at the time of his death was an unfinished manuscript from April 1940 on the trade unions, with a valuable assessment of the relationship between the state and the working class in Mexico and similar countries. Entitled Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, it once more characterised the Cárdenas regime as Bonapartist.
Trotsky also distinguished between different forms of Bonapartism, with some leaning “in a democratic direction, seeking support among workers and peasants”, while others “install a form close to military-police dictatorship”.
He criticised the nationalisation of the railways and oil fields as aimed simultaneously at foreign capital and the workers – and registered that these industries were run by the union bureaucracy for the bourgeois state.
Trotsky also repeated his assessment that the Mexican trade unions had been transformed into semi-state institutions – but maintained that Marxists still had the possibility of working inside them. But he emphasised the need for workers’ organisations to assert their own independent politics, from the state and the labour bureaucracy, and to fight for trade union democracy.
One thing is clear from comparing Mexico in the late 1930s with the situation today (especially in Venezuela), and that is that Mexico’s history anticipated present political issues of strategy and tactics in almost every case — the nationalisations, workers’ participation, coup attempts, union splits, the press, the creation of a ruling party etc, — as part of the creation of a Bonapartist regime. And in almost every case, Trotsky set out a clear position for how Marxists would navigate in these circumstances.
Of course, we cannot read off mechanically from the past what to say and do in the present. For one thing, Venezuela and Mexico today are much more industrially developed than in Trotsky’s time, and the form of domination by the US is different today than it was in the 1930s. And the Venezuelan UNT trade union federation is not today incorporated in the state but is an independent movement with some militant and longstanding rank and file forces.
But our tradition is an anchor – it demands a critical stance. Other Marxists, including Trotskyists in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, have used Trotsky’s comments to develop their analysis of the Mexican regime in terms of Bonapartism – and applied to to other cases, such as Peron in Argentina and Velasco in Peru. Events in Venezuela under Chávez should be assessed on their own terms: but much can be learned from the attitude that Trotsky took to comparable developments.
Above: Athens polling station ©Reuters
Here are the Greek election results by percentage in full:
Only parties who have 3% of vote enter parliament.
I calculate the total vote for the left- of-Pasok parties (Syriaza, KKE, Democratic Left, Antarsya) as 30.6%. The total vote for the right wing parties (Chryssi Avgi/Golden Dawn, LAOS, Independent Greeks) as 20% and the centrist pro memorandum parties (New Democracy, PASOK and Democratic Alliance) as 36%.
This result is interesting because of the three left parties Syriaza has done better then opinion polls suggested and the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) and Democratic Left worse. Syriaza though still a reformist party formed out of Euro Communism does contain Trotskyists and is a relatively democratic party. The KKE is violently sectarian and archly stalinist and the Democratic Left is a confused Euro-Communist reformist party not that far left of PASOK.
John Palmer, former European editor of the Guardian, spoke to Solidarity (paper of the AWL) about the background to, possibilities of, and implications of the call by François Hollande, who looks likely to win the presidency of France in the run-off poll today, for a reshaping of European Union economic policy.
Hollande’s position to some extent reflects a shift in the thinking of important sectors of capital and the political elite outside social democracy. It is clear that even among finance capital there is growing scepticism about the coherence of a deflationist austerity strategy.
There is a broader shift in the economic consensus taking place, which is both reflected by and contributed to the position which has been taken by the French Parti Socialiste.
That shift is also reflected within German social democracy, at least as far as some parts of Hollande’s programme are concerned. There have even been sympathetic and supporting noises coming from the centre-right Monti government in Rome and the beleaguered conservative regime in Madrid.
The significance of Hollande’s position is all the greater for it being related to these other developments.
There are already negotiations taking place between Merkel’s officials and the Parti Socialiste on what exactly they have in mind for the fiscal compact. It is clear that we’re talking about addendums rather than structural changes.
The crucial question is how far will the Merkel regime go to meet Hollande. It is clear that Hollande will go, and has already gone, some way to meet the German conservative position. He is for example no longer calling for Eurobonds to deal with sovereign debt, but Eurobonds to enlarge the capital base of the European Investment Bank so it can lead an investment-led recovery.
On the Merkel side, there are signs that she is ready to give ground because of the domestic political situation in Germany. There are elections next year.
If she wants to stay in office, it looks as if she will be obliged to do a deal for a Grosse Koalition [grand coalition] with the Social Democrats, and therefore she wants to put herself in a good position for that result. She can’t go into the election with too big a gap between her and the SPD.
So I think there is likely to be some result. How effective will it be? I think the measures will be of limited effectiveness. The likely programme of an investment-led recovery, Eurobonds for the EIB, a further increase in the so-called firewall to deal with potential new crises in Spain and Italy — those things and some other measures will almost certainly go through.
The European Commission is coming forward with proposals which are aimed at the European Council summit meeting in June. We may get some flavour of them at an informal summit which van Rompuy is considering for May.
But as against that, the double-dip recession danger in the US, in Britain, and in the European Union is increasing. The ground they have to cover to mend the downward spiral in the economies is increasing. The steps they are taking will fall short of what is necessary. What is necessary, I think, is the programme that Euro-memorandum and others have outlined, which goes to the heart of the fundamental internal crisis of the euro-area, which is the asymmetry of the economic cycles and the economic management of the key euro-area economies.
The need for growth measures is the position of sectors of capital. The intellectual milieu around big capital has been shifting in that direction for some time. That reassures the social democrats that their programme is not going to be overtly confrontational, or that they can exploit the space where there are divisions over what to do within capitalist opinion.
The IMF position in favour of growth measures is to do with the French director-general. That has been her position for some time. And the facts of the deflationary course of the crisis — i.e. the spiral of stagnation, the deficits increasing not withstanding austerity — are shrieking out now, so it’s not surprising that there are shifts taking place.
Social democracy has been a marginal force in European politics in recent years. Twelve years ago the great majority of EU governments were led by social-democratic parties, and today there are only a few countries where they have any role in government.
There are also divisions emerging on the political right, with the growth of populist and far [right], which also in a distorted way reflects this sense of failure of the system, has also has opened up space.
In France, a section of the Parti Communiste vote went to the National Front, and maybe a section of it will be returning to the social democrats in the second round of the presidential election. That shows the instability of that vote.
The social democrats are coming back from a long time out of influence. The Social Democrats are back in office in Denmark, and there are signs of the political pendulum swinging in other countries, but not everywhere as yet.
If the Parti Socialiste is seen to be changing the direction of euro-area policy, in however restricted a sense, that will probably encourage other social democrats in other countries to join in.
[In the Netherlands there has been a government crisis over budget cuts, ending with a new coalition for a cuts package. But no major party in the Netherlands has been ready to propose a “euro-Keynesian” policy of deliberately continuing a deficit in a country like the Netherlands, which has a relatively mild debt problem.]
The Dutch Socialist Party, the ex-Maoist party, has called for tax increases of various kinds, but they haven’t supported the reductions in course. The Labour Party, the PvdA, is not joining the new coalition government — not because it is against any cuts, but because it is against these cuts. But the scale of the cuts in the Netherlands is tiny compared to the scale of the cuts in Greece and Spain and Ireland so on.
The Green Left party in the Netherlands calls for an expansionary Euro-area strategy, although it has supported the new budget.
Any government, including a workers’ government that took over and was operating in the global system and not attempting a North Korean party, would have to look at its budget deficit position.
In Greece the left position should have been to focus on issues like the arms deal with Germany [under which Germany insisted that Greece go through a contract to buy submarines from Germany] and the refusal to collect taxes from the rich.
There is a caricature Keynesian position that says that there are no problems with deficits. There are problems with the deficit. The class differences relate both to the scale and the speed of the adjustments, but also the nature of the adjustments — whether they focus on armaments, wealth taxes, bank reserves, profits, and so on.
An issue which has been under-debated on the left in Britain, in my opinion, is the enormous cash reserves which non-financial companies have accumulated, and they don’t know where to put them. The left should have a position on that issue.
I don’t say that it is reactionary or unprincipled for a left party to have measures to reduce the deficit. If borrowing will be necessary to fund essential services, how do you prevent the cost of that spiralling out of control unless the overall deficit is dealt with in some way?
But the whole issue of deficits should be conducted on a European-calculated basis. Any budget policy which is calculated on a purely national basis, from the left or anywhere else, will inevitably end up in a reactionary position because of the inherent contradictions.
Social democracy and other progressive forces are running behind the shift that is taking place among sectors of capital: I think that’s true.
I don’t accept either the position that the current EU policies are shaped by a German drive for domination, or the one that they are shaped by German ruling-class stupidity.
Certainly there is a bias in all bourgeois state policies to seek state advantage and to seek the extension of national power and influence. That is not unique to Germany. In fact since World War Two it may have been less true of Germany than of other EU member states, for obvious historical reasons.
I think the conspiracy theory, that current EU policies are shaped by German ambition for a Fourth Reich, is entirely mistaken. And I do not think the position can be entirely put down to intellectual stupidity in the ruling classes.
It is down to the incompatibility of the traditional framework of national-state politics and the necessity for a broader politics. It is analogous to the contradiction which the German statelets were experiencing in the run-up to and immediately after Prussian-led German unification.
The German national market was a reality which their politics could not encompass. The same sort of thing is true of globalisation and in particular of Europeanisation today.
The whole construct of the national debate, set by bourgeois forces including social democracy, is incapable of understanding that the contradictions of the system have moved beyond national borders and require solutions which transcend national borders.
That is the genesis of the fact that everywhere states have been making calculations which, when aggregated, cannot produce a solution to the crisis they face.
Added to that is an ideological factor. The media moves politicians. In Germany Bild-Zeitung came out with the famous headline, “Alle wollen unser Geld!” — everyone wants our money! That was a very powerful Sun-type articulation of a politics that was shamelessly nationalist (not so much imperialist, but rather nationalist).
Just as the politics of the Murdoch empire captivated Conservative and Labourite politicians here, so the chaotic nature of the system means that a factor like the media can exploit the vacuum and articulate a populism which is a very powerful driver of irrational policies.
Look at Cameron. What drives his stance of vetoing the fiscal treaty and then urging the other EU countries to integrate as fast as possible? He is driven not by British capital saying that is the optimal policy, but by fear of the media.
This is important:
By Martin Thomas (Workers Liberty)
Current European Union policies will produce “Great Depression conditions for a decade” in southern Europe, predicts economist Engelbert Stockhammer.
Stockhammer was the opening speaker in an economists’ conference about the crisis in Europe on 19 April at Kingston University, in London. Many of the other speakers were, like Stockhammer, members of the “Euro-memo” network of leftish economists from across Europe.
Euro-memo produces briefings each year arguing against the neo-liberal direction of EU policy and (on a broadly Keynesian basis, though some Euro-memo members are Marxists) for alternative policies.
Trevor Evans from the Berlin School of Economics summarised the current Euro-memo proposals: the European Central Bank should backstop bond issues by eurozone states, so they can use the collective creditworthiness of the whole eurozone; a coordinated fiscal policy across the eurozone, focused on expanding market demand in the richer EU states rather than on shrinking expenditure in the poorer states; an audit of the government debt of hard-hit states like Greece, and cancellation of layers of it; a wealth tax and a wage policy aimed at “levelling up”…
John Grahl from Middlesex University described the current EU policy as “surveillance without coordination” and “a frontal assault on the social models”. He explained how, as from 2011, each year the EU runs a cycle (“the European Semester”) under which each member state submits its budget and economic “reform” plans and has them approved (i.e. declared neo-liberal enough) or disapproved by the European Commission. A state which sticks to plans reckoned not neo-liberal enough faces a fine by the EU, though this punishment procedure has yet to be tested.
Grahl, however, argued that even EU leaders are aware they are floundering. Especially “if Hollande wins” the French presidency, “the fiscal pact will change… There will be an effort to retreat”.
The Euro-memo group’s focus on seeking shifts in EU policy contrasts with the arguments made by Costas Lapavitsas and the “Research on Money and Finance” (RMF) group of economists, who say that there is no scope for budging policy EU-wide, and the only way to get ameliorations (again, of a broadly Keynesian type) is for Greece, and presumably other hard-hit states, to quit the eurozone.
They point to the example of Argentina after its default in December 2001 as showing that there would be more scope for beneficial economic change outside the eurozone.
Lamentably, I think, most of the revolutionary socialist left has ignored this debate, focusing only on country-by-country tactics to resist country-by-country cuts. AWL has argued that the activist left across Europe should advance transitional demands on a European scale – expropriation of the banks, social levelling-up. We should also examine whether it is in fact true that euro-exit would allow more scope for limited workers’ struggles to win limited gains and thus to have better chances of escalating, or whether even limited struggles have better chances of forcing concessions and of escalating if focused on the European level.
Although some members of the RMF group were at the 19 April conference, Costas Lapavitsas was not, and there was no open debate on the strategic issue. Trevor Evans declared that “leaving the euro would be catastrophic for Greece”, and the statement went unchallenged.
There was, however, debate about whether the current EU policies are simply “stupid” or express substantial if destructive capitalist interests, and that is relevant.
Several economists at the conference thought the policies simply stupid. It is not necessary to go that far. If the policies are, as John Weeks (SOAS) put it, “a conspiracy carried out stupidly” – shaped by class interests, but shaped blunderingly and short-sightedly, and with elements in the ruling classes half-aware of that – then that implies that strong workers’ struggles, even initially without much coordination, even initially in only a few countries, could shift the options.
A dense and heavily-researched presentation by Daniela Gabor, in terms of theory the highpoint of the day, sought to show that even in their own terms, current European Central Bank (ECB) crisis policies, geared to lending banks cash on easy terms for defined periods, cannot stabilise financial markets. The banks still eventually need “marketable collateral” – financial assets which they can use as proof of creditworthiness in financial markets.
Traditionally they have used government (“sovereign”) bonds as their “best”, most trustworthy, financial assets, and they still do. Current ECB policies “cannot offer effective solutions for preserving sovereign bonds as marketable collateral”. Even in its own frame of reference, the ECB should do what it has so far refused to do: act as a “lender of last resort”, a financial backstop, for governments in the eurozone.
Trevor Evans argued that there is no “strategy to impose German domination on Europe”. It is difficult to see how EU policies could be just a matter of such a striving for domination, since no policy can win a majority in EU bodies without many non-German votes. However, Evans said, the “extraordinary level of fiscal conservatism” in German ruling-class circles has been a major constraint on EU policy.
Evans attributes that conservatism not to the German ruling class being somehow more neo-liberal than others in the EU, but to the longstanding influence in German economic thinking of the “ordo-liberalism” of Walter Eucken, formulated after World War Two, inspired by Protestant Christianity, and advocating regulation of the institutions of a market economy but free play for the markets themselves.
A recent criticism by the German business magazine Handelsblatt (29/09/11) of the teaching of economics in German universities, however, paints a picture similar to English or American universities.
“The students swot up on macroeconomic models with no finance sector and analyse the behaviour of completely rational actors in perfectly functioning markets… In the course on monetary theory there is nothing on the actual monetary policy of the ECB…”
Some findings reported at the conference point to class interests behind the EU policy. An increase in German wage costs would hurt German exports. Germany sells a smaller proportion of its exports within the eurozone, and a much bigger proportion of exports to China, than other central eurozone states; and it is much more dependent on exports than other large eurozone states.
That helps explain why Germany takes the lead on neo-liberal policies. The core interest, not specifically German, may be best explained by a comment in December 2011 by German chancellor Angela Merkel. The priority, she said, is “to show Europe is a safe place to invest”, i.e. to attune public policy to the interests of footloose global capital.
That means using the crisis to smash wage and social-overhead costs and to restructure labour markets; and keeping up the euro’s exchange-rate.
Yet the ruling classes want to keep the euro; and are not committed by iron law to any precise level of cost-cutting in the crisis.
The working classes of the worst-hit countries have more scope within the eurozone to begin to claw back ground, not less, and euro-exit should therefore not be a first-line policy.
Labour movements in the worst-hit countries cannot, of course, accept the conditions currently imposed by the EU. They must therefore defy the blackmail and stand firm if EU leaders force default and euro-exit rather than by conceding on demands for EU-wide change.
That is a different matter from setting euro-exit as the left’s own first objective, and correspondingly posing immediate demands in terms primarily of national policy.
Both principle and realistic assessment indicate a focus on Europe-wide demands and Europe-wide working-class solidarity.
The stupidity and sectarianism of Stalinists never ceases to amaze, even after all these years.
By Theodora Polenta (via Workers Liberty)
Since the start of March, pictures of farmers in vans distributing potatoes to queues of people have dominated the Greek media.
Producers of potatoes in the Pieria region decided to get rid of the middleman and distribute their potatoes at €0.25 per kilo instead of €0.60.
Almost everybody across the political spectrum, including the government and the mainstream media, has endorsed this “potato movement”, though for different reasons.
The strident and significant exception is the strong though diehard-Stalinist Greek Communist Party (KKE).
The far-left coalition Antarsya, for example, has declared: “These movements show that the fat cat middlemen and capitalist bosses are not invincible… Getting rid of the middlemen is an important step so that the producers and the consumers can cope with the attacks of the [EU/ ECB/ IMF] Troika and the national unity government”.
“It is patronising to describe it as the potato movement. It is directly connected with the needs of both the producers and the people who are on the brink of starvation and social deprivation and destitution. It is connected with the future.
“It carries images from the future. It reveals the tremendous potential opened up when the producers and creators of society’s wealth take control over their products. All working class people can benefit by having access to cheap and good quality food”.
As Antarsya notes, the potato movement is connected and interlinked with the versatile, imaginative, and multiple forms of struggle developed during the last two years of Greek working-class struggle.
It is connected with the neighbourhood non-payment movement, first against road tariffs and bus fares, and lately against the new regressive property tax. It is connected with the movement of “indignant citizens” in the city squares. It is connected with all the small and big struggles in workplaces across Greece.
Yet the KKE has printed virtually an article a day denouncing the potato movement.
KKE explains the obvious — that the potato movement is not socialist collective farming; it operates within the framework of the capitalist society; it will not solve food high prices overall, or meets all of society’s food needs.
Last week the KKE paper Rizospastis declared: “Pushed by the mainstream media and encouraged by the government, a propaganda campaign is developing that has as its aim to deceive working-class people and the small peasants… This propaganda is referred to as the potato movement
“The aim of the cheap-potatoes movement is identical to that of the ‘indignant citizens’ in the city squares. It is to try to mislead the poor peasants away from the agricultural unions, away from the fight against EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, away from the fight against the monopolies…
“The feeding of the people, the production of cheap and good quality agricultural products, is a very serious problem that cannot be solved via activism, voluntarism and sporadic internet orders [the farmers involved take orders over the internet]…
“There is indeed a big gap between the price at which producers sell products to the middlemen and the price at which these products are sold to the consumer.
“But as long as the laws of the markets and the profits prevail the above problem cannot be solved…
“As long as capitalist relationships are present, exploitation will operate at every level against the people, independent of their status, pensioners, workers, unemployed, producers, consumers…
“Under a planned economy, the process of production and distribution of agricultural products will guarantee a satisfactory income for all producers, to cover their needs, as well as cheap and healthy food for all people, as well as new jobs. But that can only be achieved within the context of a workers’ and people’s government and economy”.
KKE’s hostile stance against the potato movement is in line with its stances against the students and youth rebellion movement of 2008 and against last summer’s movement in the city squares. It is in line with KKE’s sectarian policy of separate demonstrations and protests during the general strikes.
It is in line with KKE’s attempts to build separate neighbourhood movements, and its hostile stance towards any movement that is not politically and ideologically under the wing of the party. Deploying Stalinism and mechanistic conspiracy theory in classic form, the KKE declares that the potato movement is “directed by big capital, like the city squares movement”.
Recently KKE has backtracked a bit. Its secretary, Aleka Paparyga, has made a statement saying that there had been exaggerations in KKE’s response, but the main points had been right.
The movement initiated in Pieria has now spread all over Greece, gaining momentum every day, with councillors and mayors being involved to facilitate it. In some areas it has been extended to other products such as honey and oil.
There is now talk of farmers directly distributing rice, flour, olive oil, beans, and lamb for Easter. The oil will be distributed at €3 per litre (€6 per litre in supermarkets), flour at €0.50 per kilo (€1 in supermarkets), rice at €0.70 per kilo (€3 in supermarkets), beans at €3 per kilo (€8 in supermarkets), lamb at €7 per kilo (€13 in the butchers).
It all started a couple of months ago, when the producers of milk and fruit were protesting against the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy outside parliament. Instead of throwing their products at the parliament and ministry buildings, as customary in previous protests, they decided to distribute them free in Syntagma Square.
Their move gained overwhelming support, and all the products were distributed to the people within a space of a few hours.
With the economically active population earning monthly wages of €500 and €600, over one million unemployed, and 20,000 homeless people in Athens alone, of course distribution of free or cheap agricultural products results in massive responses from the people.
Alongside the potato movement there are the not-so-publicised “alternative networks of product exchange” in which people are swapping possessions, and the “social kitchens” where people are sharing resources in cooking and offering food to the destitute and unemployed. Other unpredictable forms and ways of dealing with basic needs for foods and shelter will be developed by the movement.
The left should not underestimate the danger of these movements being incorporated by the establishment, as a peaceful charity appendix of the government’s cuts, or channelled into reformist ideas and illusions about building oases of freedoms within the capitalist system.
But these movements, with their massive appeal, also carry potential to be a first step towards a concentration of forces and the building of a massive working-class movement with radical characteristics.
For that, they need to be linked with the trade union movement and the workplace struggles, and with the neighbourhood community movements, and given clear political direction by the left.
• Redistribute the land owned by the church and the big farmers to the peasants
• Create agricultural cooperatives under peasant and social control, with representatives elected, accountable to, and recallable by general meetings
• Nationalise the fertiliser and farm machine industries under workers’ social control
• Coordinate food policy and agricultural production on the basis of Greek society’s needs and respect for the environment.