Between now and June 20th you have the opportunity to see ‘The Big No’, an exhibition of work of one by the greatest left-wing satirical artists of the 20th century: George Grosz. It’s at the London Print Studio (W10) and admission is free of charge.
Grosz was a founder of the Berlin Dadaist movement who created hundreds of drawings that savagely depicted the corruption, injustice and decadence of the Weimar republic. Along with Helmut Herzfeld (who became John Heartfield) he introduced photomontage to the mainstream. Many of his his drawings are composed like photomontages.
The drawings use superb fine-pen draftsmanship while the paintings are composed of bold brush-stokes, to convey shocking images of extremes of wealth and poverty, sexual exploitation and the broken survivors of WWI.
The Big No (named after Grosz’s autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No) features two portfolios of his drawings: Ecce Homo (Behold The Man), published in 1923 and Hintergrund (Background) from 1928. Ecce Homo was the subject of a four year legal case, with Grosz and his publisher accused of both pornography and bringing the German military into disrepute. They were acquitted, but in 1933 the Nazis had all the plates destroyed and the drawings publicly burned. We are able to see the work now because in 1959, after Grosz’s death, his widow and sons licenced a facsimile edition of the portfolio.
The Nazis denounced Grosz as a “cultural Bolshevik” and his work (together with that of fellow modernists, Jews and leftists like Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix) featured in the notorious 1937 “degenerate art” exhibition organised by the Nazis. By then Grosz had fled with his family to the US, where he remained for the rest of his life and where his son Marty became a well-known jazz guitarist.
Grosz wrote, ‘In 1916 I was discharged from military service. The Berlin to which I returned was a cold and grey city. What I saw made me loathe most of my fellow men; everything I could say has been recorded in my drawings. The busy cafés and wine-cellars merely accentuated the gloom of the dark, unheated residential districts. I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon; men playing cards on the coffins of the women they had murdered. I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands… I was each one of the characters I drew, the champagne-swilling glutton favoured by fate no less than the poor beggar standing with outstretched hands in the rain. I was split in two, just like society at large…’
This exhibition is simply unmissable. I don’t know whether or not it’s going to appear anywhere outside London, so even if you don’t live in capital, I’d recommend a special visit. And how appropriate that it’s appearing in one of the less affluent parts of London, at studio whose stated mission is to “empower people and communities through practical engagement with the visual and graphic arts.”
This is where you will get the best information and analysis (from a social democratic angle):
Make no mistake: Syriza’s victory is an inspiring moment for the working class of Greece and the left throughout Europe and beyond. Shiraz Socialist is not about to join the bleating chorus of sectarians, Stalinists and other defeatists who have already begun predicting a sell-out by the new government. Some of these people on the UK left are well described here by Comrade Coatesy.
However, it has to be admitted that Syriza’s coalition deal with the far right wing anti-immigrant (and on occasion, antisemitic) Independent Greeks party (ANEL) is disappointing and worrying. The following disturbing article from Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog, offers a possible explanation for this unlikely alliance. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of what the author claims, but his theory certainly makes sense and is at least worthy of serious attention:
Greek left-wing SYRIZA forms a coalition with the pro-Kremlin far right
After a landslide victory in the early parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2015, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) that secured 149 seats in the new parliament has surprised the left-wing voters and sympathisers by agreeing to form, already on 26 January, a coalition government with the far right Independent Greeks party (ANEL) that now has 13 seats. Popular support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn led by currently imprisoned Nikolaos Michaloliakos has slightly decreased: the neo-Nazis have secured 17 seats (one seat less than in 2012), but the Golden Dawn is still the third largest party in Greece.
Both SYRIZA and ANEL are so-called “anti-austerity parties” implying that they oppose reducing budget deficits as a response to the Greek financial crisis, as well as rejecting the austerity package put forth by the EU and the IMF. The “anti-austerity” platform may seem the only agenda that has drawn the two parties they share, but they also share a similar approach to foreign policy issues – an approach that may undermine the EU unity over the Russian threat.
Both parties are overtly pro-Russian, and SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras denounced the sanctions against Russia imposed by the EU for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine that has already cost Ukrainians thousands of lives. In May 2014, i.e. already after Russia had started its invasion of Ukraine, Tsipras travelled to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin’s major allies such as Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of Federation Council of the Russian Federation, and Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Both Matviyenko and Pushkov are sanctioned by the US, while Matviyenko is also sanctioned by the EU. This did not prevent Tsipras from holding a meeting with her.
|Valentina Matviyenko and Alexis Tsipras at a meeting in Moscow, May 2014|
In Greece, our [i.e. Russia’s] partners could eventually be Leftists from SYRIZA, which refuses Atlanticism, liberalism and the domination of the forces of global finance. As far as I know, SYRIZA is anti-capitalist and it is critical of the global oligarchy that has victimized Greece and Cyprus. The case of SYRIZA is interesting because of its far-Left attitude toward the liberal global system. It is a good sign that such non-conformist forces have appeared on the scene.
The pro-Russian sentiments of SYRIZA were manifested, in particular, in its voting behaviour in the European parliament. For example, on 16 September 2014, when the European Parliament ratified the EU-Ukraine Association agreement – an agreement that was one of the reasons of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – all six MEPs of SYRIZA voted against the ratification of this agreement.
If SYRIZA is Russia’s “Trojan horse” in the EU, then ANEL led by Panos Kammenos may be even worse.
ANEL (founded in February 2012) is a far right party that Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou describe as “highly conservative and nationalistic right-wing”. In its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, ANEL is similar to, yet is more moderate than, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. ANEL is also prone to conspiracy theories. For example, as argued by Pavlos Zafiropoulos, ANEL and its supporters believe that the Greek government “is spraying the populace from airplanes with mind-controlling substances”. Anti-Semitism is not alien to ANEL either: “Panos Kammenos, speaking on a TV program made the baseless claim that Jewish people in Greece are not taxed in contrast to Christian Orthodox Greeks”.
The driving force behind the pro-Russian approach of ANEL seems to be Gavriil Avramidis, who was elected MP with ANEL in Thessaloniki in 2012. He is also head of the Patriotic Social Movement “Greek-Russian Alliance” founded in 2001 and aimed at widening co-operation between Greece and Russia.
Yet Avramidis may be not the only politician in ANEL who is lobbying Russian interests in Greece. Kammenos visited Moscow in the first half of January 2015. Moreover, an article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” that was published on 22 January in the Greek Russian-language newspaper Afinskiy Kur‘er (Athens Courier) discussed the pro-Russian approach of ANEL in general.
|An article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” published in Afinskiy Kur’er (Athens Courier). Gavriil Avramidis is featured on the central photo|
Several questions remain, however. Are pro-Russian sentiments indeed important for ANEL? Will ANEL contribute to the strengthening of SYRIZA’s pro-Russian positions? Will the new coalition government push for lifting the EU sanctions against Russia that is escalating its invasion of Ukraine?
Doubtlessly, Russia will try to capitalise both on the victory of SYRIZA and the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. Putin has already congratulated Tsipras on his party’s victory saying that he is “confident that Russia and Greece will continue to develop their traditionally constructive cooperation in all areas and will work together effectively to resolve current European and global problems”. BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse, currently in Athens, reports that he has seen the Russian ambassador Andrey Maslov entering the SYRIZA main office.
Kammenos’ visit to Moscow was most likely connected to the possibility of the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. At the same time, Avramidis visited the General Consulate of Russia in Thessaloniki on 23 January 2015, i.e. just a few days before the parliamentary elections, to discuss, with Consul General Aleksey Popov, the renewal of the cooperation between Greece and Russia, as well as lifting the sanctions against Russia.
|(left to right) Russian Consul General in Thessaloniki Aleksey Popov and MP Gavriil Avramidis, 23 January 2015, Thessaloniki|
Since the EU is a consensus-based organisation, imposing or tightening sanctions against Russia requires all the Member States to agree to such moves. Hence, the issue of sanctions may become a negotiating point for the new Greek authorities when they meet with more influential EU players to renegotiate the terms of the bailout programme for Greece. SYRIZA and ANEL are “anti-austerity” parties in the first place, so their pro-Russian sentiments may increase the cost, rather than contribute to lifting or blocking, of the EU sanctions against Russia.
The people tried to overthrow the memoranda between 2010-13, but they couldn’t overcome the state’s reaction, the brutality of the police and legal system, the betrayals or lack of planning from their own trade union leaders. It was natural that they started moving away from their political and trade union leaders (from the neo-liberal parties) and place their hopes on Syriza. Their interest was elevated towards the question of power, even in a “distorted” parliamentary way, as a next means of tackling the crisis.
Increasingly, since 2012, it has been up to Syriza to direct the people’s attention towards a reconstruction of the movement on a higher basis, with a friendly government on its side. A Syriza victory and the implementation of some of its urgent measures, could encourage the workers to fight for all they have been deprived of.
There are struggles still going on, such as the laid-off public servants (teachers, janitors, school guardians [caretakers]). Nevertheless demonstrations and strikes have weakened and people in struggle are also are waiting for the elections, at least temporarily. Yet all these struggles (and the recent victorious one, against the lay-offs in the public sector, against the “redeployment” process) have created a mood of public exasperation. That hindered the next memorandum planned by the former government and forced them to resign in the hope that a “left-break” would be short-lived.
If Syriza wins the urgent measures for the first 100 days will, as set out in the Thessaloniki declaration, consist of some measures that we, as DEA, find useful or critical to give confidence to the labour movement. These are:
• Restoration of the minimum wage (up to 751 euros, a 30% raise),
• Restorarion of all the labour laws and the collective labour contracts
• A €12, 000 tax-threshold
• Free health care for all the uninsured
• Abolition of socially unjust taxing
• Free electricity for 300,000 households
• A programme for 300,000 new jobs in the public and private sector.
Not every issue is fully addressed. The question of unemployment and even more urgently that of the evaporated pension funds need more immediate and determined attention. We hope that the movement will push for the most radical solutions, the ones Syriza’s majority faction try to overlook or postpone. But the overall programme of priorities is very promising. Many people hope for half of it to be realised as fast as is being promised. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Prime Minister Samaras and Syriza leader Tsipras
According to protothema news.com the main Greek opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party continues to be ahead in the opinion polls following an opinion poll by Rass polling agency for last Sunday’s issue of Eleftheros Typos: SYRIZA would gather 30.4% of the votes if elections were held now, followed by the conservative New Democracy (ND) leadership that would gather 27.3% of the votes. This puts SYRIZA 3.1 points ahead, down from 3.4 units that had been shown in the previous poll.
The Greek Communist Party (KKE) follows in third place, gathering 4.8% of the votes, marginally ahead of To Potami with 4.7%. Ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn follows with 3.8%, socialist PASOK with 3.5%, rightist anti-austerity Independent Greeks (ANEL) with 2.5% and ANDARSYA with 1.4%. Democratic Left (DIMAR) is not recorded.
3.8% of respondents said they would vote for another party whereas 2.6% would cast an invalid ballot and the undecided vote gathers 15.2%.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has the highest approval rating with 7.6% ahead of SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras when respondents were asked about who would be a better prime minister. Mr. Samaras gathered 41% and Mr. Tsipras gathered 33.4% approval.
A majority of people (74.2%) believe that Greece should remain within the euro area at whatever cost. 41% fear the prospect of Mr. Tsipras being elected Prime Minister and 38.1% says it gives them hope.
Only 6.1% said they trust former prime minister George Papandreou and his plan to form a new party.
On Monday 29 December, the Greek parliament failed to elect a new President for the third time. The result is parliamentary elections at the end of January, elections which it looks probable that SYRIZA will win. Shortly before the vote, Workers’ Liberty member Theodora Polenta – who is based in Greece – wrote this:
Where is Greece going?
This Christmas story does not have a beginning and we do not know the end yet. Will we get the present the majority of the combat working class movement and all progressive/libertarian forces are long awaiting for: a government of the Left, not as the final aim and not as an end in itself, but as a starting point towards another route and another narrative that we are going to be the protagonists and the story-makers of our own destiny?
My story, although it covers a very short period (shorter than the British extended celebration Christmas period) has it all: the heroes and the villains, the omnipotent external forces, bribery, corruption, blackmailing, backstabbing … as well as bravery, dignity and resilience. It is not an ‘objective story’. The heroes and the villains are interchangeable, dependent upon which side of the fence one is sitting. I am going to attempt to tell this story from a very class biased way, from the perspective of the working class interest.
However, paraphrasing Orwell, within the context of capitalism in crisis describing reality is a revolutionary act of itself and I will commence by stating the facts.
Resurgence of the class struggle and the combat working class movement with sectoral strikes and occupations with the public sector workers in “reserve employment” in the vanguard, increased militancy of the student/university students movement with on-going occupations and demonstrations resisting the further business orientation of the education and the government’s vision of an education that fits the needs of the Greece under continuing austerity and memoranda.
The uncompromised hunger strike of the anarchist Nikos Romanos defending his self-evident right to life and education and the enormousness of the erupted movement that encompassed not only the usual suspects but broader layers of the Greek society.
The spread of the Greek virus to the very epicentre of the EU/Eurozone with militant protests and strikes in Belgium and Italy.
The disclosing of the farce of the Government’s “success story” and the balanced budgets, and the end of the memorandum and austerity…
The total mismatch between the Greek population’s wishes and political beliefs, and the existing balance of forces within the parliament. The continuing fragmentation of the two party coalition government of Samaras Venizelos and the decimation of the once all powerful two party political system.
The grim future of another memorandum and Troika’s pressure to the Government to speed up the austerity reforms, with the banks confiscating “bad/debtors” (i.e. working class people that have become unemployed and/or their income is diminishing) people’s homes.
The Presidential election
Panicked and deadlocked, the government rushed, hurriedly, to announce the launch, conduct and completion of the procedures for electing the President of the Republic in December, before the end of the year (which were previously scheduled to take place in February). Three elections were to take place for the parliament to elect the President of the Republic: 17th of December, 23rd of December and 29th of December. Read the rest of this entry »
Reviewed by Hans G. Despain in Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2014. 696pp., $39.95 / £29.95 hb
About the reviewer
Hans G Despain
Hans G Despain is Professor of Economics and Department Chair at Nichols College, Massachusetts. He encourages your correspondence: email@example.com
Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a most impressive book that deserves great attention. Piketty insists that social scientists generally, and economists in particular, must confront and examine “facts” (574-5). This is what he sets out to do in his momentous nearly 700 page text.
The title suggests the book may be offering homage to Marx’s nineteenth-century Capital. Let us be clear from the beginning it is not. Nonetheless, this book will be appreciated by Marxian political economists, while at the same time a frustratingly theoretical disappointment.
Piketty’s book is nothing short of revolutionary in establishing flows of income over time. He establishes that there is a tendency toward the hyperconcentration of wealth, and the rise of a new “supermanagerial” class (315-21). Piketty leaves no doubt that it is class that matters and structural “class warfare” predominates in twenty-first century capitalism (246). Crucial to Piketty’s studies of capitalism is that there exist no economic laws determining distribution of income and wealth (274, 292-4, 361-4). This is an enormously important point, and a return to classical political economy with a vengeance, especially to Marx whereby distribution is a function of series of institutional power relations, rooted in production relations. These summaries will surely, and should, excite Marxian social theorists. However, Piketty’s definition of capital as a financial measure of physical equipment, money, financial assets, land, and other valuables will discourage Marxian social theorists. I will come back to these crucial points.
The primary problem with the book is an underdeveloped social theory and normative philosophy. Consequently, Piketty’s policy recommendations are impressively anemic and aimed at perpetuating exploitation of the economically vulnerable populations. In the end Piketty wants to take the ‘hyper’ out of hyperexploitation and reestablish good old-fashion exploitation with higher minimum wages, taxes on capital, progressive income tax, and limits on inheritance.
With emphasis, Piketty defends the strengthening of the “social state” or the historical development of public education, healthcare, social security, unemployment compensation, and income support for the poor (471-92). Moreover, he maintains that deficits are not bad in-and-of-themselves, but must be spent wisely and should not be paid for with fiscal “austerity” but by means of central-bank-generated-inflation and/or a tax on capital (540-70). This defense of the “social state” and federal deficit pushs Piketty into the area of (political) philosophy, social ethics, and morality. Piketty is well-aware of this (479-81). He recognizes that the so-called “science of economics” is more accurately political economy that generates enormous normative philosophical implications (574).
This gets well ahead of our story and the details of Piketty’s book. The essence of the book is remarkably straight forward and is intended for a popular audience. Piketty brilliantly succeeds on this account and should be duly praised. The essential argument is that capitalistic economic growth inevitably slows. As the rate of economic growth diminishes, the past accumulated “capital”/wealth gains in importance (233), and indeed allows past wealth “to devour the future” (378). Piketty calls this a “fundamental law of capitalism” (166).
This fundamental law of capitalism means that the “return on capital” (r) is greater than the economic growth (g): r > g. As a prosperous and industrialized capitalist economy begins to stagnate, past wealth becomes more important and powerful and inequality begins to increase rapidly (572). Thus, one of Piketty’s main goals “is to understand the conditions under which such concentrated wealth can emerge, persist, vanish, and perhaps reappear” (262).
According to Piketty, the primary mechanism (25) causing inequality is the fact that the rate of return on capital is 3 to 5 times greater than the rate of growth (233). Thus, the structural tendency of capitalism toward stagnation and 4-5% rate of return on capital means that markets and competition do not reduce inequality (370). It is in this sense that there is a “logic of accumulation,” based on the divergence between the rate of return on capital and economic growth (22-7), that accounts for the very high concentration of wealth throughout capitalist history (377).
Following Michael Gove’s bizarre article in the Mail, attacking ‘Blackadder’ and ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ (and then fellow Tory Max Hastings’ equally fatuous follow-up), I thought it might be an idea to check up on what a proper historian has to say about the First World War. Here’s the late James Joll (Emeritus Professor of the University of London and a Fellow of the British Academy), in his 1973 book Europe Since 1870:
Any single explanation for the outbreak of war is likely to be too simple. While in the final crisis of July 1914 the German government acted in a way that made war more likely, the enthusiasm with which war was greeted by large sections of opinion in all the belligerent countries and the assumption by each of the governments concerned that their vital national interests were at stake were the result of an accumulation of factors — intellectual, social, economic, and even psychological, as well as political and diplomatic — which all contributed to the situation in 1914 and which can be illustrated in the events of the last weeks before the outbreak of war.
While some people have argued — and it was a popular view in the period between the wars — that the war was the result of the ‘old diplomacy’ and of an alliance system based on secret agreements, others, and especially some of the leading German historians since the Second World War, have seen in the war a half-conscious or in some cases deliberate attempt by governments to distract attention from insoluble domestic problems by means of an active foreign policy and an appeal to national solidarity at a time of war. For Marxists the war was inherent in the nature of capitalism; the forces which drove states to expand overseas were in this view leading inevitably to a clash in which the great international cartels would no longer be able to agree on a peaceful division of the under-developed world and would force governments into war for their own economic interests. Other writers have concentrated attention on the implications of strategic decisions and on the influence of for example the naval rivalry between Germany and Britain in creating international tension, or on the effects of the German decision finally taken in 1907 that, in order to defeat the French army before turning to fight the Russians on the Eastern Front, it would be necessary to violate the neutrality of Belgium, and thus run the risk of bringing Britain into the war as a guarantor of Belgian neutrality under the treaty of 1839
If we try to account for the widespread optimism and enthusiasm with which the war was initially greeted by many people in all the belligerent countries, we have to look at many of the factors described in the preceding chapters — the belief that the doctrine of the survival of the fittest could be applied to international relations, so that war seemed to be the supreme test of a nation’s right to survive; the belief, stemming from Nietzsche, that only by a supreme shock and effort could the limitations of bourgeois life be transcended and its essence transmuted into something nobler. Or again, even if the governments of Europe did not deliberately envisage war as a way out of their internal political difficulties, the fact remains that war briefly produced a sense of national solidarity in which bitter political quarrels were forgotten: Irish Catholics and Ulster Protestants could agree to shelve their differences ‘for the duration’, as the phrase went; right-wing Catholics and socialist free-thinkers who had not spoken for years shook hands with each other in the French Chamber of Deputies, and the Kaiser gave a warm greeting to a gentleman whom he mistakenly supposed to be the Social Democratic leader Scheidemann. In Germany in particular the war seemed to create a new sense of solidarity, of belonging to a Volsgemeinschaft such as a generation of social critics had been longing for, a national community in which class antagonisms were transcended and in which the Germans felt rightly or wrongly a sense of mission and of purpose which had been lacking since the 1860s and early 1870s.
But perhaps in addition to the illusion that the war would be a short one, the illusion which received the most bitter blow, even though it was to be revived hopefully by President Wilson in 1918, was the belief that international relations could be conducted on a rational basis in which the interests of the various nations could be made to harmonise with each other without the need for armed conflict. It was this illusion that had governed Grey’s diplomacy and his attempt to mediate between the continental powers in the last days of July 1914; and it was a similar belief that inspired the leaders of the Second International when they came to Brussels in the hope of finding a way to demonstrate that the international solidarity of the European working class was stronger than the division between their capitalist rulers. The ideological assumptions on which European liberalism had rested were already breaking down before 1914. The war was going to hasten this process in the field of practical politics and everyday social and economic life. The war destroyed the political, economic, social and territorial structure of the old Europe and neither conservatism nor liberalism nor even socialism were ever going to be the same again. From the standpoint of sixty years later there is all too much truth in the prophesy made by Jean Jaures in 1905: ‘From a European war a revolution may spring up and the ruling classes would do well to think of this. But it may also result, over a long period, in crises of counter-revolution, of furious reaction, of exasperated nationalism, of stifling dictatorships, of monstrous militarism, a long chain of retrograde violence.’
I have little doubt that I shall be returning to James Joll from time to time throughout the coming year: in the meanwhile I recommend Europe Since 1870 (from which the excerpts quoted above were taken) and his The Origins of the First World War (1984, with Gordon Martel). I doubt that Michael Gove will want to read anything so objective, scholarly and challenging.
Comrade Coatesy: ‘Daily Mail Attacks My Granddad.’
Ordinarily, we don’t republish articles from the bourgeois press, as you can read them for yourself. But this one, from John Palmer (a leading IS member in the early 1970’s) in the Graun, is so good and so important that we’re making an exception. The idiot-left such as the the Morning Star and Bob Crow, who intends to squander RMT members’ dues on a useless, reactionary campaign, should take note:
Above: John Palmer
The rise of far right parties across Europe is a chilling echo of the 1930s
Since the global banking crisis in 2007, commentators across the political spectrum have confidently predicted not only the imminent collapse of the euro, but sooner or later an unavoidable implosion of the European Union itself. None of this has come to pass. But the European project, launched after the devastation of the second world war, faces the most serious threat in its history. That threat was chillingly prefigured this week by the launch of a pan-European alliance of far-right parties, led by the French National Front and the Dutch Freedom party headed by Geert Wilders, vowing to slay “the monster in Brussels”.
Of course, the growth in support for far-right, anti-European, anti-immigrant parties has been fed by the worst world recession since at least the 1930s – mass unemployment and falling living standards, made worse by the self-defeating austerity obsession of European leaders. Parties that skulked in the shadows, playingdown their sympathies with fascism and Nazism are re-emerging, having given themselves a PR facelift. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French NF, plays down the antisemitic record of her party. The Dutch far-right leader has ploughed a slightly different furrow, mobilising fear and hostility not against Jews but Muslim immigrants. Like Le Pen, Wilders focuses on the alleged cosmopolitan threat to national identity from the European Union. It is a chorus echoed in other countries by the Danish People’s party, the Finns party and the Flemish Vlaams Belang, among others.
For now, the French and Dutch populists are carefully keeping their distance from openly neo-Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn, whose paramilitary Sturmabteilung has terrorised refugees and immigrants in Greece, and the swaggering Hungarian Jobbik, which targets the Roma minority.
According to some pollsters, the far right might win as many as a third of European parliament seats in elections next May. That would still leave the centre parties – Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals – with many more members. But for the European parliament to form a credible majority, all of these parties might well be forced much closer together than is good for democracy.
Such a situation would be unsettlingly reminiscent of 1936, when the centre and the left – notably in France – temporarily halted the swing to fascism but formed an unprincipled and ineffective coalition. Its collapse on the eve of the second world war accelerated the advent of Phillippe Petain’s Nazi-collaborating regime. History does not normally repeat itself in an automatic fashion, but it would be foolish to take the risk.
More worrying than the growth of the far right are the temporising gestures to the racists and anti-immigrants now coming from mainstream Conservative and even Liberal Democrat politicians and from some of the new “Blue Labour” ideologues. The warning from the likes of David Blunkett that hostility to Roma immigrants might lead to a popular “explosion” is reminiscent of Enoch Powell’s rhetoric.
An antidote to the far right requires that the European left articulates and pursues a comprehensive alternative to economic stagnation, an ever-widening income and wealth gap and the degradation of our social standards, civil liberties and democratic rights. But that alternative has to be fought for at European as well as national and local levels, and will require more, not less, European integration.
Time is running out, not only for the European Social Democrats, but also for the wider socialist left and the greens, to show they can create a counterbalance to the rightward drift of the centre. Without that, the new far-right alliance may only have to hold together and wait for its hour to strike.
Clearly, there’s a lot more to be said, from a leftist point of view, about the closure of a defence manufacturing facility. But for now, here’s the GMB’s reaction (from today’s Portsmouth News):
- by Sam Bannister
Union will ‘oppose each and every job loss’ in Portsmouth
The closure of Portsmouth’s shipbuilding yard is a ‘betrayal to the workers and the nation,’ the GMB union has said.
It comes amid the huge political and industrial row which has erupted today over news shipbuilding is to stop in the city.
Gary Cook, the GMB regional organiser with responsibility for shipbuilding, said: ‘GMB will oppose each and every job loss in Portsmouth.
‘The contempt shown to the workers by BAE and the Tory coalition by leaking stories to the media before the affected employees were informed is nothing short of a stab in the back and a national disgrace.
‘Shipbuilding has taken place on the south coast for hundreds of years and the GMB is not prepared to sit idly by and watch design innovation and highly skilled workers thrown on the industrial scrap heap.
‘If the government wants their second aircraft carrier, a large proportion of which still sits in the build facility at Portsmouth, they’re going to need to talk to us about how we preserve jobs and protect the livelihoods of hundreds of people.’
All shipbuilding will stop in the second half of next year, the defence firm announced this morning, with some of the remaining work on the second of its Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, due to be carried out in Portsmouth, moving to Glasgow.
Workers were told this morning.
‘If closure of the shipbuilding facility is allowed to go ahead it will have a devastating effect, not only on the local economy but on many hundreds of hardworking employees and their families,’ added Gary Cook.
‘The company embarked upon a massive apprentice and graduate recruitment programme during the destroyer and carrier orders.
‘Young people entered into training because they were told that shipbuilding in Portsmouth had a long term future, now all of this would appear to have counted for nothing and the government are prepared to export shipbuilding jobs to Scotland in their pursuit of retaining the union on a devolution vote.
‘We in Portsmouth are the victims of the squalid, underhand political game.
‘GMB are calling for all politicians regardless of persuasion to do everything in their power, and more, to fight for the retention of a shipbuilding capacity in England.
‘This is nothing short of a betrayal to the workers and the nation.’