Yves Coleman: Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe

April 17, 2015 at 9:55 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, AWL, conspiracy theories, Europe, fascism, France, Greece, Islam, islamism, israel, populism, posted by JD, Racism, thuggery)

The French revolutionary socialist Yves Coleman (of the group Ni patries, ni frontières), has written a lengthy and detailed piece on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe. This is one of the most comprehensive and important articles on these closely interconnected subjects to have been published so far this century. It appears in a 12-page pull-out in the present edition of the AWL’s paper Solidarity. Comrade Coatesy has already commented on supplementary article by Coleman that also appears in Solidarity: About the ambiguities of the “Islamophobia” concept.  We reproduce Coleman’s main article in full below:


Protest in Greece in memory of a Pakistani immigrant murdered by ‘Golden Dawn’ fascists

Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe

Around 1.1 millions Jews live in the European Union and 19 million Muslims. It’s obviously very difficult to compare the situation of an ethnic/cultural/religious minority living in Europe for centuries with the situation of religious and/or national minorities whose importance has massively grown after the Second World War, and in some cases only during the last 40 years.

Nevertheless, many militants (inspired by left academic researchers) compare anti-Semitism in the 30s to the situation of Muslims in Europe today.

This comparison is flawed1, for many reasons, but it remains a fact that the anti-Islam paranoia which dominates Western media, and the long and complex relations between the Islamic world and Western powers nourish extended racist discrimination and social exclusion against Muslim workers, “alien” or not, living in Europe.

For definitions of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism this text mainly uses those provided by the European Fundamental rights Agency (FRA) with a few additions. Obviously they have not been conceived by so-called “revolutionaries” and do not have a great theoretical significance. They are clearly focused on discrimination: this legalistic and multiculturalist perspective deliberately neglects, or even completely erases, social inequalities, the division of society into classes, and refuses to take into account discriminations if they are not based on ethnic, racial, religious, or gender pecularities.

In addition, if you study in detail, from a historical and anthropological point of view, anti-Semitism and all the issues linked to the cultural, religious, economic and military contacts between Islam and the “Christian West”, contacts which have given birth to today’s anti-Muslim racism in Europe, then the differences between anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism appear so huge that you can no longer engage in any comparison – or only so from a purely demagogic angle. The too famous “competing memories” can lead you to compare the statistical figures of the Armenian, Jewish, Gypsy, Cambodian, Tutsi genocides with the number of victims of the transatlantic slave trade or the number of victims of colonialism; and then you will be inevitably led to establish a dangerous hierarchy between these evils. Or you can even go as far as suggesting that capitalist Europe is preparing a “muslimicide” analogous to Hitler’s Judeocide, as if European Muslims in 2015 are in a similar position to European Jews in the mid 30s …

This article deliberately takes a minimalist focus: the issue of democratic rights for all human beings, whatever are their origins and philosophical or religious beliefs. In this limited frame, the great advantage of the FRA definitions is that they focus on concrete, identifiable, phenomena, which we want to fight and defeat today, even if they don’t cover their more general socio-economic causes.

The polemics which have been launched between social scientists – and by extension between radical left activists – around the content of these two definitions often hide ideological issues (“Zionists” against “anti-Zionists”, secular Republicans against supporters of “multiculturalism”, sectarian atheists against intellectually dishonest believers, partisans of a binational State in Palestine and supporters of two separate states, etc.) and their main effect is to divide and paralyse the militants concerned with an efficient struggle against all forms of racism, here and now.

Anti-Semitism is an ideology based on the conscious, or unconscious, hostility to the “Jews”2 for religious, social, national, racial and/or economic motives. “Jews” may be actually Jewish by religion or culture or not. It does not matter for the anti-Semite; what matters for him is to attribute them negative or even sometimes positive qualities3 in order to discriminate and exclude them.

To this very general definition, one can add that anti-Zionism can sometimes, not always, lead to anti-Semitic conclusions4: when Jews are accused of exaggerating the Holocaust; when they are denied the right to self-determination, granted to all the other peoples living on this planet; when classic anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic clichés are used to characterise Israel or Israelis; when Israeli policy is systematically compared to that of the Nazis; when Jews are considered as a “fifth column”, a “lobby” of “cosmopolitan” people who are only loyal to Israel, etc.

Anti-Muslim racism (“Islamophobia” for the European Union and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) is an ideology which sees Islam as a “monolithic bloc”, sharing “no common values with other cultures”, “inferior to the West and barbaric”, more “sexist” than all the other religions, “supportive of terrorism” and of an agressive politics leading to military conflicts and war.

Anti-Muslim racists justify “discriminatory practices towards Muslims and their exclusion from mainstream society”, practices which they want to enshrine in laws.

To the elements of this FRA definition, one can add that anti-Muslim racism is often mixed to (and fuses with) anti-Asian, anti-African, anti-Arab or anti-Turkish racism, up to the point it’s difficult to distinguish between them.

Today in the Western world, anti-Jew racism and anti-Muslim racism are not, most of the time, religiously motivated. They can mobilise “anti-capitalist” or “anti-imperialist” plot theories which denounce the role of “the Jews”, or present Islam as the main threat to human civilisation today. Anti-Semites and anti-Muslim racists hide their political agenda behind all sorts of radical, leftish or pseudo-humanist reasoning: some pretend they are particularly moved by the sufferings of the Palestinians; others that they only want to defend women’s rights and democracy; some pretend European Muslims should not be blamed for what happens in the Middle East and North Africa, but constantly blame European or American Jews for what happens in Israel; some consider Europeans Muslims should spend all their time condemning Daesh (ISIS), Boko Haram or al-Qaeda, but defend any military aggression of Tsahal, any “targeted murders” with their inevitable “collateral damages5”, or find lousy excuses for racist Israeli settlers or Israeli far right politicians. It’s rather easy to unmask these discourses, including in our own ranks, provided we open our eyes and are ready to lose… some “friends” or “comrades”.

Before analysing these phenomenon and their extent today, one has to recall some of the important political changes which started in the mid-1970’s and set the context for anti-Semitism and Muslim racism today. Read the rest of this entry »

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Grexit?

February 20, 2015 at 10:06 pm (capitalism, capitalist crisis, Europe, Greece, Jim D)

Alexis Tsipras celebrates his victory

This is where you will get the best information and analysis (from a social democratic angle):

http://www.socialeurope.eu/#ios

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Syriza and the Independent Greeks: a Kremlin connection?

January 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm (anti-semitism, capitalist crisis, democracy, elections, Europe, Greece, populism, posted by JD, Russia, strange situations)

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

According to Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin, writing in 2013,

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 Kurer (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.

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After the Syriza victory: for a United Front of the left throughout Europe!

January 25, 2015 at 9:24 pm (democracy, Europe, Greece, posted by JD, solidarity)

The epitome of the election campaign for 25 January of Greece’s main right-wing party, New Democracy, is ND
candidate Makis Voridis — former member of a neo-fascist youth organisation and minister of health in the last government, using language from the Greek civil war of the 1940s and asking people to defend the values of “Country, Religion, and Family” against Syriza’s “communist threat”.

ND leader and outgoing prime minister Antonis Samaras escalates this argument with statements in defence of Orthodox Christianity and getting himself photographed next to the fence and barbed wire on the border in Evros (the area of Greece next to the border with Turkey).

Samaras and his party and their media parrots present Syriza as the carrier of seven plagues which will take us out the euro and into an “Asia Minor catastrophe”; lead to a flight of bank deposits and a stock market crash; make farmers will lose their European subsidies; destroy pensions; demolish the barrier in Evros and flood us with immigrants; disarm the police so that criminals and terrorists will invade our homes and kidnap our kids…

The ruling class-memorandum system, having long lost the ability to convince the people and achieve the general consensus that the interests of the bourgeoisie represents the general social interest, has reversed its strategy: it identifies Syriza with the general social disaster!

While Samaras intensifies his strategy of fear, the European chancelleries and IMF leaders have already ceased to be unanimous, with a sizeable proportion of conservative leaders saying that they will respect the verdict of the Greek people. Ruling-class voices are asking for respect for the verdict of the Greek people and of the right for Syriza to demand measures to stimulate growth and to write off the non-viable debt.

The US administration is tired of the way the EU has handled the financial crisis from 2009; fears that slowing global growth will have a negative effect for the US economy; and wants change in economic policy both from the “strong” Eurozone countries and from the ECB itself.

Two Reactions

Mainstream economist Willem Buiter says: “It would be a huge disaster if Greece abandoned the Eurozone .The markets would begin to ask what country would be the next candidate for withdrawal…

“The German government knows that if Greece is out of the euro the whole Eurozone will be exposed “.”If Germany continues to insist on maintaining the existing monetary and financial policy in the euro zone, the euro cannot survive politically. The situation is extremely serious. Never before was I as worried as I am today”.

The chief economist of Citigroup says: “The faster the ECB announces the purchase of bonds, the better. There may be a special meeting of the ECB immediately after the Greek elections”.

The mainstream German weekly Die Zeit reports (7 January) that: “In Berlin and Brussels discussions are going on about how a possible compromise with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras might look… for example… extending the maturity of the outstanding loans” [i.e. postponing when they have to be repaid].

There are different reactions within Syriza and within the left. Some express an untenable confidence that the eurozone will almost definitely tolerate the write-off of the debt and the reversal of the austerity in Greece. This assessment sees only one side of reality: the crisis of the system that makes it vulnerable and insecure.

In contrast, much of the left outside Syriza declares that the Syriza government is condemned to surrender to the austerity agenda and there is no scope for manoeuvre. This underestimates the depth of the crisis of the system and the Eurozone and the potential to break the weak links within it.

The Greek bourgeoisie wants to “encircle” and undermine and suppress mutiny against memoranda and austerity, even this relatively timid electoral mutiny. At the same time, because of its own crisis and the destruction of many political reserves, the Greek bourgeoisie cannot have a single strategy and a centre to implement this strategy.

The only thing definite is conflict and confrontation. The outcome of the conflict is not fixed in advance. Austerity will not be reversed without confronting the system, but this will be a confrontation against a capitalist system and a eurozone in deep crisis, which makes them non-omnipotent.

It will be objectively impossible, however, in the not-so-long term, for Syriza to reconcile both sides, the markets and the radical left.

The leaders of Syriza so far base everything on the belief that the EU leaders will backtrack when they start negotiations. They have so far presented no Plan B in the case that the negotiations are unsuccessful. They perceive the threats of the lenders that they will cut off any financial aid to any government that refuses to extend their austerity policies as a bluff.

However, one leader of the majority, John Dragasakis, admitted in a recent debate that if by July no solution has been found, then Greece will not be able to pay the €6 billion due to the ECB then.

The Syriza leaders’ optimistic perspective is not shared by everyone in the party, and especially by the Left Platform, who argue that there will be conflict, but under certain conditions the government of the Left.

The ruling-class side is definitely preparing. It would be tragic for our side not to prepare with the corresponding seriousness and determination, and to cultivate illusions that everything can be done with a tough but still civilised “dialogue”.

We should have four axes

First of all the strict application of Syriza’s “Thessaloniki programme” and its conference decisions: repealing the Memoranda and austerity, restoring workers’ rights, wages and conditions, and removing most of the debt.

Secondly, the awareness of the asymmetry of the correlation of forces. Even after a Syriza election victory, the main centres of powers, economically, socially, and within the state, will be controlled by the enemy. The re-invigoration of Syriza’s rank and file and a new wave of radicalisation are the only way to confront the enemy.

Thirdly, persisting in our argument for a United Front of the Left, despite the refusal of the leadership of the KKE (Communist Party) to promise support for Syriza against the right. We should not forget that there is a decisive difference between electoral power and links with the organised labour movement, and in the organised labour movement, outside-Syriza left forces retain a big role.

Fourthly, the weapon of Syriza and the Greek working class is going to be working class internationalism and solidarity. The prospect of a Syriza victory has generated a wave of solidarity and hope for all the political and social forces that are suffocating within the present neoliberal framework in Europe and all over the world.

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Greece: the prospect of a Syriza victory

January 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm (capitalist crisis, democracy, economics, Europe, Greece, left, posted by JD, solidarity)


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 »

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Greece: the coming crisis

January 5, 2015 at 9:21 pm (AWL, capitalist crisis, economics, Europe, Greece, posted by JD)

SYRIZA

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.

The context

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 »

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For workers’ unity across Europe: not an inch to “No to EU” populism!

May 26, 2014 at 8:39 am (capitalist crisis, class, elections, Europe, fascism, France, Greece, internationalism, Jim D, populism, Racism, Socialist Party, solidarity, stalinism, UKIP, workers)

French far-right leader of the National Front Party, Marine Le Pen

French far-right leader of the Front National, Marine Le Pen Photo: AP

Ukip came top of the Europolls in Britain on 22 May. The Front National, which has a clear-cut fascist lineage, won in France. Populist and racist anti-European parties did well in other countries.

In Germany, the new, right-wing, and anti-euro AfD is at 7% scarcely a year after being launched, while in Denmark the far-right Danish Peoples’ Party gained three seats.

Greece, the country which has suffered most with cuts plans from the European Union and European Central Bank, is a partial exception to the rise of the anti-EU far-right.

There, the left-wing party Syriza for the first time ran clearly ahead of the main right-wing party, New Democracy. Syriza rejects the EU leaders’ cuts plans and proposes Europe-wide solidarity to break them rather than advocating “get Greece out” as an answer.

Alarmingly, the neo-Nazi (and anti-EU) Golden Dawn party came third with 9.4 of the vote, winning three seats. The other group gaining ground is a new party, To Potami, which is vague but leftish and not anti-Europe.

Greece shows that the left can provide answers to the social discontent, but only with an effort.

If the left goes halfway with the nationalists by endorsing “get out of the EU” as an attempt to jump on a populist badwagon, that will only help the right. Fanciful footnotes from idiots like the Morning Star and other supporters of the pathetic No2EU, which speculate that the re-raising of economic barriers between countries will somehow push towards socialism, are simply reactionary nonsense – and reactionary nonsense that achieved a derisory vote.

Voters persuaded that re-raising national barriers is the first step will inevitably drift to the serious, powerful barrier-raisers: the nationalist right.

“No to the EU” agitation, whether from right or idiot-“left”, threatens the position of millions of workers who have crossed EU borders to seek jobs.

We should instead seek to unite workers across the borders for a common cross-European fight against the cross-European plans of capital and of the EU leaders. Anti-EU populism, whatever “leftist” slogans may be tacked on, can make no useful contribution to that fight.

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Golden Dawn fascists murder rapper, threaten ‘civil war’

September 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm (anti-fascism, Europe, fascism, Greece, posted by JD, Racism, reblogged, Roger M, thuggery)

From When the Crisis hit the Fan
A new type of civil war
posted on 18 September 2013

I’m getting fed up of these numb mornings. I usually wake up in the morning, I prepare my coffee and sit on my computer to read the news and check the newspaper headlines. This morning my entire electronic universe was filled with the story 34-year old rapper Killah P (known as Pavlos Fyssas) who was killed by a fascist in Amfiali, Keratsini district, near Piraeus.

The victim, a singer known in the area for his anti-fascist lyrics and activism, was watching last night’s Champions League match with his friends at a coffee shop. During one of their discussions they said something (bad) about Golden Dawn. Someone from the crowd, obviously a Golden Dawn member (not just a voter), has called his fellow neonazi thugs and, after the match, the singer was ambushed, attacked and stabbed to death in front of his girlfriend and another couple.

Here’s one of his songs (you can activate English captions for the lyrics).

Can you be something less than immensely furious about this? I can’t.

Some days ago, another group of about 50 neonazi thugs have attacked a team of 30 communists who were wheatpasting on walls posters for the coming Communist Youth Festival. Eight communists were injured in the event that also took place near Piraeus, at Perama district. It was, once more, one of those mornings.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect a serious escalation of anti-leftist violence from Golden Dawn, despite the stated hatred from both sides. There was a very popular quote that was often appearing in my facebook timeline:

First they came for the immigrants, but I wasn’t an immigrant and I didn’t speak. Then they came for the communists, but I wasn’t a communist…

I was quickly scrolling down when I’d see this. But I am now afraid that the violence between Golden Dawn and anything Leftist is not an accidental confrontation in a battle to claim the streets but a rise in planned incidents.

One year ago, Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panayotaros has given an interview to BBC’s Paul Mason. Sitting comfortably, he said that Greece is in a state of civil war. Paul Mason, a connoisseur of modern Greek History, insisted on the phrase “civil war” and Panayotaros explained:

Greek society is ready, even though no one likes it, to have a fight, a new type of civil war. One the one side there will be nationalists, like us and Greeks who want our country to be as it used to be and on the other side there will be illegal immigrants and anarchists…

Watch the video here (go to 01:55 for the Panayotaros segment)

Last week Golden Dawn was involved in tension during two events that commemorated some ugly moments of the Greek Civil War. One was at Meligalas and the other was at Giannitsa. There were no immigrants involved, just leftists and nationalists.

There have been hundreds of attacks against immigrants, leftists, homosexuals and others and the Golden Dawn party has always denied involvement. There was never a denouncing of the event itself because there were seldom enough proofs (for Justice) to incriminate them. This morning, the killer of Pavlos Fyssas has been arrested and, unofficial police sources say that, he was a supporter of Golden Dawn. Was he an official member? Does it make a difference? Of course not. He was definitely a member of a circle of thugs who have answered the phone call at the coffee shop before the end of the football match.

Not only the killer himself has now blood in his hands. The person who made the phone call also has blood in hands. Golden Dawn MPs, like Panayotaros, who have used hate speech against all non-nationalists, who have made anything they could to polarize the Greek society, they all have blood in their hands. And all those who have voted for Golden Dawn should now feel the thick red liquid in their hands too.

The Golden Dawn ballot is now wet and it’s not black anymore. It’s bloody red.

Update: I just found this great poster made back in 2012 by b-positive:

“You’ve armed their hands with your vote”

H/t: Roger McCarthy

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Petition for the release of Greek trade unionists

November 23, 2012 at 10:50 pm (capitalist crisis, democracy, Europe, Greece, Jim D, protest, solidarity, unions, workers, youth)

From comrades in Greece:

Please, sign the following petition:
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/agwnas/

On November 16th 2012 the police arrested three unionists accusing them of
participating in the protests against the German deputy labor minister,
Fuchtel, in Thessaloniki the day before. Two of the arrestees are municipal workers and the
third one is a primary-school teacher – known figure of the Left and the
Labour movement as well as an elected member of the teacher’s Union Board.
The teacher was arrested within the premises of his school and in front of
his pupils. All three, were sent to court the day after. According to the
prosecutor’s decision the process was closed for the public. The solidarity
mobilization for the three arrestees was massive and the trial has been
postponed for December 19th. One day later, during the demonstrations for
the commemoration of the people’s revolt against the dictatorship in 1973,
sixteen young people were arrested when the police invaded the University
in a brutal way.

This is a petition in support of the three unionists and the sixteen young
people, who are prosecuted because of their participation in the
mobilizations in Thessaloniki against the visiting German deputy labor
minister, Fuchtel, and the demonstration for the commemoration of the
people’s revolt against the dictatorship in 1973. The following statement
was announced in the three unionists’ trial, on Monday 19 November.

*this petition has already been signed by thousands including:
Manolis Glezos, significant figure of the Left since the 2nd World War,
Bitsakis Eftichis, distinguished university professor,
the elected members of Parliament for SYRIZA Panagiotis Lafazanis and Nikos
Voutsis,
Alekos Alavanos, known figure of the Left in Greece
Dimitris Kaltsonis, left-wing academic, theorist and writer
and Aggelos Chagios and Dimitris Desylas, members of the Front of the Greek
Anti-Capitalist Left (ANTARSYA) *

PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO FIGHT
On November 17th 2012, thirty-nine years after the Greek people revolted
against the military junta (dictatorship) demanding bread, education, and
freedom, the arrest and forced trial of three union activists in
Thessaloniki, with the hypocritical and unsubstantiated criminal charges of
“illegal violence” as well as the similar treatment of sixteen youth
arrested inside the University after the demonstrations for the
commemorations of the events in the Polytechnic School in Athens,
constitute an insult to our historical memory.

We want to stress the serious responsibility of the government which, in an
attempt to implement at all costs its anti-popular politics, assumes the
responsibility of an open anti-democratic political assault, targeting
those political liberties achieved through struggle and bloodshed. The
constant heightening of state repression, police abuse, torture of
protesters at the Central Police Headquarters in Athens, employers’ terror
in workplaces, racist pogroms, and state support of Nazi and fascist gangs
make up the “arsenal” they use against the popular workers movement in an
attempt to subjugate them.

People’s right to fight remains non-negotiable, particularly at a time when
civil rights, democracy and people’s rule are at gunpoint. The fact that
the arrests followed almost immediately after German Chancellor Merkel’s
statements about “violence in Greece” is revealing. Was such the eagerness
and subservience to please our partners-lenders-prosecutors?

We invite all political forces, unions, organizations and other
stakeholders to mobilize immediately towards a common coordinated struggle
to subvert the terrorization of workers’ struggles that is reminiscent of
the darkest times of this country’s history.

WE DEMAND THAT ALL ARRESTED UNION ACTIVISTS AND YOUTH ARE SET FREE AND THAT
THEIR UNACCEPTABLE PROSECUTION CEASES

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Syriza on Europe: to exit or not to exit?

July 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm (Europe, Greece, internationalism, Jim D, socialism, workers)

“Put simply, for those of us outside the eurozone, far from there being too little Europe, there is too much of it. Too much cost; too much bureaucracy; too much meddling in issues that belong to nation states or civic society or individuals.  Whole swathes of legislation covering social issues, working time and home affairs should, in my view, be scrapped” – David Cameron in The Sunday Telegraph.

As Cameron raises the possibility of a referendum on the social and employment protection aspects of EU membership, and Liam Fox says “life outside the EU holds no terror,” the anti-EU stance of the majority of the British far-left is looking increasingly untenable. Of course, it’s true that just because you find yourself taking apparently the same position as the right wing, doesn’t necessarily make your arguments wrong. But on the question of the EU it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the British left’s anti-EU obsession can only play into the hands of little-England reactionaries and the most vicious nationalist, anti-worker and often downright racist elements in the Tory Party and UKIP. This idiot-left needs to have a long, hard think about its anti-EU posturing and what it means in the real world. If the latest pronouncements of Cameron and Fox don’t wake their ideas up, perhaps the following extremely thoughtful and sophisticated article  from members of the Greek radical left party Syriza will force a re-think:

Authors: Christos Laskos, John Milios, Euclid Tsakalotos

This article by three Syriza members presents their argument that a “euro-exit” strategy for Greece is “a return to a form of popular frontism” and cuts against “a return to class politics”.


Click here to download as pdf.


Communist Dilemmas on the Greek Euro-Crisis: To Exit or Not to Exit?

One section of the Greek left converged on a strategy of default and exiting the euro, together with restructuring the economy through devaluation, nationalization of the banks and the renationalization of public utilities, industrial policies etc. At the intellectual level this approach gained powerful support from a number of Greek academics working abroad. At the political level the exit strategy was promoted as a central policy plank by the extra-parliamentary left, especially Antarsya, but also found a strong, albeit minority, support within some sections of Syriza (see Kouvelakis, 2011, p. 30)[1] . The forces coalescing around the exit strategy obviously had internal differences and we cannot hope to do justice to all the nuances here. Rather we shall focus on the arguments as presented by those providing the intellectual gravitas to the exit strategy.

The exit strategy has two main elements. The first relies on a deconstruction of any argument that the EU provides any privileged terrain for left wing strategies. The second relies on showing how debt default and withdrawing from the euro provide the indispensable starting point for such strategies. Thus the first report published in 2010 from the Research in Money and Finance Group, based in SOAS, argued that the “good euro” option (for instance introducing eurobonds, enlarging the EU budget to include larger fiscal transfers between states or transforming the ECB into a lender of last resort) was politically infeasible (Lapavitsas et. al., 2010). Europeanists, whether “reluctant” or “revolutionary”, Lapavitsas (2012) argues, are widely overoptimistic at what can be achieved on the supranational level. Why should “the main powers” accept major losses from a fundamental restructuring of debt at the EU level (p. 292)? Is it surprising that the “eurozone establishment” has given short shrift to proposals for direct ECB financing of public debt (p. 293)? Moreover is it likely that we could arrive at a coordinated European-level response to macroeconomic imbalances? After all “There is no capitalist class that would systematically aim at raising the wages of its own workers since it would then be ruined in competition. If wage restraint was broken in Germany, the monetary union would become a lot less attractive to the German ruling class, raising the issue of its own continued euro membership” (p. 294-5).

It is difficult to know what to make of this style of argumentation. “Revolutionary Europeanists”, to accept for the sake of the argument Lapavitsas’ widely misleading term for those he disagrees with, are hardly likely to believe that the “main powers” and the “eurozone establishment” will accept willingly either debt restructuring or monetary financing of public debt. Nor do they think that it is somehow in the interests of German, or any other for that matter, capital to increase the wages of their workers. Nor, to take a final example, are they likely to be unaware of the fact that German capital is committed to the euro as a hard currency whose credibility is crucial to providing the framework for capital accumulation[2] . A radical strategy for the Left that gives more weight to the European-wide level is just as likely to point to the need for a fundamental shift in the balance of class forces as is one that places more emphasis on the nation state.

Thus Syriza, which did not support the exit strategy, was fully aware of the scale of the task in changing the balance of class forces at the supra-national level. But it considered that building alliances with radical forces in both the PI(I)Gs and in the Northern economies was a critical component of any response; not just to respond to the rising debt crisis, but to seek common ground to challenge ruling ideas and practices concerning both production and redistribution. It was under no illusion about the scale of the resistance to be expected to any restructuring of debt, but its analysis maintained that the global nature of the capitalist crisis presented severe limitations for any merely national response. In any case Syriza’s internationalist interventions were supplemented with national-level initiatives, calling for a radical redistribution of income, socialization of the financial sector and many of the policies supported by those in the exit camp. Moreover Syriza was in some sense more radical in its skepticism with respect to leftist strategies that relied on the “reconstruction of the national economy” as a stepping stone towards socialism, thereby somewhat sidelining the issue of the relations of production.

In other words, the issue at stake is not the need to think about the balance of class forces, but, rather, where the more favourable terrain for the Left lies, or where should the emphasis be, given that “revolutionary Europeanists” do not ignore national struggles, and nor do supporters of the exit strategy neglect the need for supra-national interventions. Without such an analysis it is difficult to work out why TINA does not hold at the national level, as the entire Left has argued throughout the dark years of neo-liberalism, but somehow the mainstay of capitalist ideology, that there is no alternative, is perfectly correct once we move to the supra-national level. But it turns out that the analysis required opens up nearly the whole gamma of issues concerning Left strategy: from the nature of present day imperialism to that of the state, from the feasibility of national roads to socialism to the nature of leftist alternatives for the economy, from the sources of capitalist ideological hegemony to class strategies for changing the balance of forces. It is for this reason that we believe that the Greek debates are of interest the wider Left.

The Eurozone crisis facing the Ghosts of Dependency Theory: A False Dilemma?
Influenced by the anti-colonial struggles many neo-Marxist approaches to imperialism in the post-war period were premised on the idea that ex-colonies and developing economies were subordinated to imperialist countries through relations of dependency. This notion of dependency, together with the related concept of world capitalism, shaped the centre-periphery theories which conceived global economic relationships as relationships of exploitation and polarization between countries, with a developed imperialist “centre” and a dependent “periphery”, with a “semi-periphery” in between these two major poles. The approach was most influential in the 1970s, and it played some role in the thinking of PASOK in its earlier radical phase before its first administration in 1981[3] .

The marginalization of this approach is best explained by the failure of this approach to explain contemporary developments in capitalism: the rise of East-Asian capitalist social formations and later China and the other “BRIC” countries, despite the marginalisation of most sub-Saharan, Latin-American and Asian countries (Milios and Sotiropoulos, 2009, ch. 2). But there is a strong element of the centre-periphery schema in many of the supporters of the exit strategy:
The European Monetary Union (EMU) has created a split between core and periphery, and relations between the two are hierarchical and discriminatory. The periphery has lost competitiveness in the 2000s, therefore developing current account deficits with the core and accumulating large debts to the financial institutions of the core. The result has been that Germany has emerged as the economic master of the Eurozone. […] the Eurozone also has an external periphery in Eastern Europe which has presented similar tendencies to the internal periphery […] Italy […] occupies an intermediate place between periphery and core […] But what alternative is currently on offer to peripheral countries? Trapped within the Eurozone, they are threatened with continued austerity, low competitiveness, high unemployment, growing social tensions, and loss of national independence
Lapavitsas et. al. (2011, p. 5 ff.)

The general tenure of the argument suggests that that the competitive capitalist countries of the European “centre” – especially Germany – have experienced gains in competitiveness by achieving low labour costs, primarily through a squeeze on wages and a slowing down of inflation. In this manner they have improved their exports within the Eurozone, while at the same time destroying the “productive base” of the periphery which seems to be caught in an “underdevelopment” trap. The persistent current account imbalances are thought to be the immediate results. For those accepting this line of argumentation, monetary union seems to have been converted into an area for the exploitation of the countries of the periphery by the economic “steam-engine” of the centre.

Such an approach displaces a major element of Marx’s problematic, namely class-struggle as the motive force of historical evolution, in favour of a bourgeois theoretical schema, according to which contradictions and exploitative relations between capitalist social formations move history. It has no conception of the state as the political condensation of class relations of domination, the factor that underwrites the cohesion of capitalist society. It therefore fails to grasp that capital is a social relationship that is reproduced in a complex way (politically and ideologically over-determined) in the framework of a specific (national) social formation.

The economic development of capitalism, and its crises, does not depend on the “desire” or the “strategies” of powerful states, but on the class struggle as reproduced within the various national state links of the global economic and political order, which through their inter-articulation comprise what may be described as the global imperialist chain (Milios & Sotiropoulos 2009, ch. 10). This is a way of conceptualizing the complex economic, political and ideological links that develop between the different social formations which over-determine the class struggle in each country but never acquire priority over it. The imperialist chain provides, on the one hand, the field of constitution of different, often contradictory national strategies, patently unequal in strength. But at the same time the unequal links in the imperialist chain have a common strategic interest: reproduction of the capitalist system of power. Each state as it forges its own strategy in the international arena, on a terrain of shifting correlations of power, also contributes to the reproduction of capitalism at the global level. The EU comprises the integration of capitalistically developed European countries: a strategic coalition of their ruling classes, seeking to strengthen their position both against the USA and other developed capitalist formations and, primarily, against their “own” (the European) working classes. The key prerequisite for unimpeded capital accumulation is that there should be favourable conditions for the valorization of capital, and capitalist competition is to be included among such conditions. Exposure to international competition is the most appropriate strategy for organizing bourgeois power, as a model for continuing reorganization of labour and the elimination of non-competitive individual capitals to the benefit of overall social capital.

Exit strategy supporters rightly consider that the EU is a powerful and authoritarian construction furthering capitalist interests. However, what we challenge here is the claim that that the EU essentially a construction which serves the interests of the Northern economies – as if there are no class relations within northern economies. The exposure to international competition, effected through the single market programme and monetary union, imposed significant restructuring to the benefit of capital in all member states. Significantly, this integration secured higher rates of profit, satisfactory rates of growth, and a rise in average productivity, for the less competitive countries, before 2008 at least, went a long way towards closing the gap in per capita GDP that separated them from the more advanced countries of the European north. And all this in an environment of “free” movement of goods and capital is an index of competitiveness!

During the period 1995-2008 Greece experienced a real increase in GDP amounting to 61.0%, Spain 56.0% and Ireland 124.1%. Conversely, GDP growth over the same time period was 19.5% for Germany, 17.8% for Italy and 30.8% for France (see OECD, Economic Outlook, Volume 2009/2, IMF & See Milios and Sotiropoulos 2010, p. 228). We note that during the same period, and contrary to what happed in Spain, Italy and some other European economies, the growth of Greek GDP was more heavily based on investment and on a high growth of employment and productivity, rather than government consumption [4] . The higher growth rates in the “peripheral” European economies were accompanied by both a fast reduction in the cost of domestic borrowing and a significant inflow of foreign investment (of various forms). This caused lasting surpluses on the financial account. However, the imbalances in the financial accounts within the eurozone shaped an unstable and vulnerable context of symbiosis which quickly unraveled after the 2008 crisis.

One of the most noteworthy features of the first decade of the euro is the persistent current account imbalances: certain countries show chronic surpluses while others invariably suffer deficits. Nevertheless, the causality between these two “givens” may not be what it is often casually asserted to be in the relevant discussions. The current account deficit, in other words, may not be simply the immediate result of a corresponding “deficit” in competitiveness. On the contrary, it is quite possible that both could be the outcome of a different deeper cause, namely, the considerable differences in the levels of capitalist growth and of the specific mode of “symbiosis” within the euro.

Two other basic parameters seem pertinent in this respect. On the one hand, the higher rates of profit at the “periphery” boosted financial yields as a whole, with the result that international investors became ever keener to finance these high rates of growth, particularly in an environment where exchange-rate, and other, risks seemed, at the time, so much smaller. The countries of the “periphery” thus recorded strong surpluses on their financial accounts. Investments of various kinds in these countries rendered them attractive to capital from the centre. On the other hand, eurozone economies, with their different rates of growth and different rates of profit, were incorporated into the same regime of uniform nominal interest rates set by the ECB. These interest rates were considerably lower for the countries of the “periphery” than they had been prior to the introduction of the single currency. This fact, in conjunction with the higher rates of inflation prevailing in these countries, translated into even lower real interest rates for the local banking sector, laying the ground for the explosion of (private and public) borrowing.

These two factors strengthened borrowing and contributed to a further heating up of the “peripheral” economy, orienting production to the needs of a considerable domestic demand [5]. This had the effect of further reinforcing inflationary tendencies. The real level of interest rates fell even further, in this way providing further financial leverage. At the same time conditions of high internal demand caused increasing demand for imports. The flow of capital to the “periphery” on the one hand offset the cost of participation in the single market while at the same time generating the preconditions for a deterioration in competitiveness (as higher inflation boosted the price of domestically produced commodities). Thus the euro contributed to the perpetuation of asymmetries in the current account balances and divergences in unit costs of labour and inflation (competitiveness).

Clearly it is not that easy to sort out the line of causation between current account deficits and capital account surpluses, but a “centre-periphery” approach, we would argue, is misleading with respect to understanding the dynamics of the eurozone. Monetary union evidently generates strategic benefits for the collective capitalists of all the countries that participate in it. In other words, the strategy of exposing individual capital to international competition resulted in high growth rates and accumulation in the less-competitive countries of “periphery”. It is not possible to sustain the argument that EMU is exclusively the servant of the “insatiable” schemes of Germany, with its competitive economy. Moreover the experience in Greece, after the adoption of the first stabilization plan, suggests that what we have been witnessing is entirely understandable as a massive assault on the living standards of Greek workers for the benefit of Greek capital. It could further be argued that Greece provides a crucial test case, for European capital’s ability to enforce a “solution” to the crisis which strengthens its hand. The emphasis on Germany’s role severely misrepresents both of these aspects to the detriment of socialist strategy, to which we now turn.

A critique of the National Routes to Socialism: Class Politics revisited

Above we have argued that the financial and economic architecture of the eurozone, which does not simply rest on the single currency, acts as a mechanism for exerting pressure for reorganizing labour in all member countries. The squeezing of the German working class, which started well before the eruption of the crisis, is an important part of the story. The debt crisis has further served to tighten the screws on labour in all areas of the eurozone. The policies of austerity have been almost universally adopted even though they have been unable to halt the eurozone crisis.

Is the exit strategy as a response to the crisis in the eurozone?

In our view the basic problem is not the supposed radical nature of the strategy, but that it fails to challenge deeply enough prevailing views about the nature of the Greek predicament. In this way it is also unable to break with ruling ideas concerning the importance of the national economy and competitiveness. The serious economic and social consequences of breaking off from the euro are to be met with, presumably in rapid succession, capital controls, nationalization of the banking sector and leading industries, and industrial policies. That is to say, we have a national response in the face of a globalized world, with all the numerous interdependencies that this entails, and a capitalist class united and organized at the world level.

The alternative supported here does not ignore the importance of the nation state and local struggles. On the contrary, it is happy to concede that the primary locus of struggle is within the nation state and against the bourgeois class of that state. But it is also keenly aware of the importance of reaching out to secure alliances, and promoting initiatives, beyond the boundaries of the nation state. Labour in both the PI(I)Gs and the northern economies has a lot of common interests that need to be exploited. Some in the exit camp have been keen to place their approach within the tradition of leftist internationalism. Thus it has sometimes been argued that Greece represents the weakest link in the capitalist chain, and that a radical break with the eurozone in Greece will lead to radicalizing initiatives elsewhere. But it is not that convincing that a strategy that relies, in its initial stages at least, on a competitive devaluation to promote the competitiveness of the Greek capitalist economy can be sold as an exercise in internationalism. Moreover the emphasis on the national economy does not suggest that an integral aspect of the strategy is the process of bringing together the largest possible concentration of the forces of labour to take on the class enemy.

An additional problem is that such approaches fail to learn from history: national roads together with the demonisation of the foreign ‘other’ without a proper antidote of making the necessary class distinctions and integrating within a regional class struggle are easily manipulated by the forces of nationalism. This is particularly poignant in the Greek context, where the debt default and euro exit option has been taken up wholeheartedly by a wide range of nationalistic forces, whose anti-imperialist rhetoric is not always easily distinguishable from that of certain sections of the Left[6] . Debt default is supported in these currents because Greece does “not owe anything; they owe us”, and that the county is facing a new form of “occupation”, a term that still has a powerful resonance in a country that has not forgotten its wartime experience and all that followed from that. This line of reasoning, needless to say, does not allow any internal division between the “people” and the “nation”.

Syriza has taken a clear position on this. Also on a number of times, the general secretary of the KKE, Aleka Papariga, has suggested that in current circumstances a withdrawal from the euro could have catastrophic consequences. For the KKE the exit is postponed to the longer run, under conditions of “popular power”. Thus the stance of Syriza, and also to a certain extent the KKE, with respect to the exit strategy has nothing to do with their acceptance of a “role of passive repositories for popular rage” (Kouvelakis, 2011, p. 31) but more with a class analysis of the capitalist crisis and their historical understanding of the dynamics of nationalistic politics.

The long tradition within the Greek Left of placing great emphasis on the reconstruction of the economy has also influenced the dominant discourse, in particular modernizing currents that came to the fore with the first Kostas Simitis PASOK government in 1996. The dominant discourse has argued that it represents the outward-looking pro-European option. In actual fact what has been on offer is a national strategy within the EU. Modernizers, before and after the outbreak of the crisis, were willing to offer some criticism of existing EU policies and institutions, but a shift in these was never seen as an indispensable element of the solutions offered. In the post-1974 period, the Left was concerned with the restructuring of national economy. PASOK and the KKE thought that this could be done best outside the (then) EEC, while the KKE-interior, reflecting the eurocommunist tendency within Greece, argued that a national strategy inside the EEC was more viable. What was lacking from this conflict, which has subsequently re-emerged in different guises a number of times, was a strategy based in part on supra-national solutions.

But it is interesting to note that this national emphasis in socialist politics had, in the years before the outbreak of the crisis, had been subjected to very serious criticism. Much of this revolved around the issue of the economism and statism of the traditional Left, as well as its focus on winning elections and forming a government, or its governmentalism to use the Greek expression. It cannot be said that those supporting the exit have shown any great readiness to engage with such criticisms.

For instance the economistic bent of the approach can be fathomed from the importance given to acquiring a national currency. There is a case to be made whether devaluation can provide the same level of real wage decline but with lower unemployment, but it is not obvious that devaluation is always to be preferred to the type of internal deflation being pursued at present by the Troika. The statism of the approach seems to have learnt nothing from previous experiences of Left governments, such as the French experiment in the early 1980s. The idea that forming a government of the Left is a sufficient condition for a change in enforceable policies is one that dies hard it seems. And this is especially the case when the emphasis is so much on reconstructing the productive basis of the economy in order to be better able to compete, and so little on changing the relations of production and promoting new forms of social production. This line of argument is taken up more fully in the following section. The governmentalism of the approach is evidenced by the emphasis given to what a Left government would do in order to bring Greece out of the crisis. So the whole Left is entangled in a, often vitriolic, debate of what needs to be done once a government of the Left is formed. This can only sideline the central tasks of building a movement towards that end, with that level of active participation that experience shows is a vital prerequisite for making the best use of government.

Underlying this triptych seems a return to a form of popular frontism. It is as if the people have a common interest against large capital, thereby considerably simplifying the problems of popular and state power. This may be also a result of a “centre-periphery” mindset that suggests that Greek capitalism is weak and therefore the forces of reaction are also weak. This approach does, as we have seen, not stand up well in terms of theory, and perhaps more importantly, it has not been borne out by the events after the outbreak of the crisis. As Rylmon (2011) points out that:

[the] higher social groups as well as a large section of the middle strata accept the deterioration in inequality with respect to income and social services, as they do the increase in unemployment and the spread of poverty. In spite of the fact that the consequences of the crisis, and the policies that have managed that crisis, have some effect for nearly all the population, the deterioration that has been enforced by these policies has been met with enthusiasm by a large majority of the privileged … firms are sacking in large numbers those who are struggling to preserve the legal rights of workers … therefore calls for national unity in these conditions represent a failure to look at the real issue…

Austerity has seriously worsened the conditions of labour. The equality of insecurity, to use a telling phrase of John Gray, being imposed on both public and private sector workers, has unified the experience of large numbers of people, and has put severe limits on individualistic responses while leading to the proletarization of sections of the middle class. What we are witnessing is the return of the social question, and the prioritization of the issue of jobs and wages. This is the basis for a return to class politics and the need to start from basics. It is for this reason that one section of the Left has put a radical redistribution of income at the heart of its response. It is not “a simple rejection of austerity”, as suggested by Kouvelakis (2011, p. 29). Such a stance further requires rather more explicitness on possible friends and foes than the supporters of the exit strategy are willing to express.

The central issue, for us, at least revolves around whether the basic contradiction is between capital and labour or between capital and the people. What we need is a discourse, or rhetoric, that elevates class, and not the “popular”, and which has the potential to unite the blue-collar worker, the precariously employed and the supermarket employee.

This does not imply that there are no middle classes that can take sides with the forces labour. But thinking about this issue relies going beyond the anti-monopoly schemas that dominate some parts of the Greek Left. The category of the middle classes, including the petit bourgeoisie (Milios & Economakis 2011), covers a wide range of experiences and social practices. The Left needs to analyse these distinctions. It also needs a hegemonic politics that seeks to reach out to some these classes, not on the basis of their traditional mode of operation, which in the Greek case could simply imply tax evasion or worse, but on the basis of new practices and new consumption and production prototypes.

Alternatives to the Hegemony of Capitalism

We are criticizing here a position which has a curious conservative quality. It is as if the Left has always known the path to socialism, including the optimum economic interventions along that path, and all that is needed is the appropriate political climate to reactivate the given formula. Making a virtue out of necessity, exiting the euro and suspending debt repayment provides an ideal framework, it seems, for implementing the usual panoply of leftist economic responses: capital controls and the nationalization of the banks, price controls, renationalization of most of the public utilities privatized by the ND and PASOK administrations since 1996, industrial policy and so on. Those who recall the experience, or better the fate, of the Alternative Economic Strategy in Britain or the Common Programme of the Left in France, might be tempted to express some mild surprise that so little has changed in the rather extensive intervening period. Nor can it be said that the proponents of the exit strategy displayed any great interest in discussing the reasons behind past failures in alternative economic experiments or the extent to which economic developments since the 1970s, such as globalization and financialisation, necessitated certain new departures.

But thinking about alternatives is not only a matter of assessing past failures. In most Marxist conceptualizations, theory, and therefore practice, should in part be based on the generalization of the actual experience of working class. More recently, leftists would be keen to extend this formulation to the experience of the feminist, anti-racist and other movements, such as those that have been struggling against the commodification of social and public goods. The experience of the anti-globalization movement, given its prevalence in the lean years of neo-liberal hegemony, would seem to provide an excellent workshop for leftists seeking guidance about how to think about alternative economic and political strategies. Grass roots activism, self-organization, self-management, the social economy, social auditing, fair trading and ethical banking would seem to be just some of the experiences that have sprung up across the world which could realistically form the elements of a new approach. Not necessarily as alternatives to, say, democratic planning or industrial policy, but at least as useful additions. We would stress two themes, common to many of these innovations: that social needs provide the essential starting point for thinking about any alternative (see Lebowitz, 2003), and that an active response from the agents of change is indispensable for addressing those needs and therefore also for the political aspects of any transition strategy[7] .

It is not that either of these themes was entirely missing from previous experiments. To take just one example, British leftists who engaged with the Alternative Economic Strategy were keen to stress the role of industrial democracy and workers’ participation. It would go too far to claim that the strategy relied exclusively on the transfer into state ownership of large banks and enterprises. But it is no exaggeration to claim that there was an inflated expectation concerning the degree to which such a transfer would, by itself, open new opportunities for a socialist transition. In retrospect it seems that the dominant view was that a state controlled by the Left could be relied upon to know which needs of labour have to be prioritized, while the active involvement of those from below was, at best, an additional extra.

In our conception, on the other hand, what the two themes – needs and active participation from below – provide is a basis for uniting the experiences of a wide range of movements, some of which are anti-capitalist, but many of which have an anti-capitalist dynamic without any conscious commitment to that effect. The connecting threads seek to challenge both production and consumption prototypes of capitalism, and not just of the neo-liberal variety. They bring to the fore, in new and interesting ways, the historical Marxist problematic concerning who produces what for whom and how. They open up the question of new technologies and how these can serve communities rather than the control of capitalists over production and distribution processes. They relate directly to ecological concerns about sustainable development or feminist ones about the role of “care” in our societies.

At the same time after 2008, and in Greece especially after 2010, social resistance to austerity included diverse forms of solidarity and initiatives to set up a parallel social economy. It could be argued that these experiments were hesitant and sporadic, while they lacked the critical mass necessary to provide viable alternative modes of consumption and production, let alone to seriously challenge the system. But in the position we are criticizing here such experiments tended to be seen, if at all, as useful protests that expressed disaffection with the austerity policies of the government. They had little bearing on the big picture of setting up a viable socialist economy.

We would argue that this is too limited a conception. When Kouvelakis (2011) argues that Syriza limited its political strategy to opposing austerity and hoping that the Greek debt problem would be solved at some unspecified moment in the future he is doubly misleading. First, one section of the radical Left argues that we need to go beyond the issue of debt, important though it is, if the Left is to provide convincing answers to the crisis. To conceptualize the issue as a straight fight between those arguing for austerity within the euro and those arguing for exiting the euro to provide space for the restructuring of the economy and growth, is to remain on the terrain of the dominant ideology. For that ideology, most often experienced as a threat, maintains that the only alternative to austerity is being expelled of the eurozone and all the significant costs this entails. This dilemma can only be transcended when the problem of debt is given its proper weighting, along with the issues of the crisis in capitalist production and consumption prototypes discussed above.

Secondly, that part of the Left, criticized by Kouvelakis, was intensely engaged in all those movements discussed above. Not only as an expression of solidarity, but also through a belief that if the Left was to regain its hegemony it needed to prove that it was not only saying different things from the dominant elites, but also doing different things. Neo-liberalism has, as it is often argued, led to a devaluation of politics and its potential to actually change things. The issue, therefore, resolves around the agency of social change. For us these forms of solidarity and social economy are better seen as practices with radical potential. At one level they provide an immediate response to the needs of those at the butt end of the neo-liberal response to the crisis. But at another they provide transformative structures (Suchting, 1983), in which people come to see the value, of say solidarity, in practice and come to see that politics, widely defined, can actually change things. To be sure, people primarily shift position because of material circumstances and ideological reconsideration. But practices that are antithetical to capitalist values can also play a key role: in a context where trade unions, or working class associations of all types, are unable to fulfill such a role, at least to the extent they did in the past, the Left needs to think very seriously about the role of alternative practices.

Unless that is, one thinks that the most important element in transforming consciousness is the homing in on the “correct” political line with respect to present conjuncture. For many on the Greek Left, we fear, the response of exiting the euro and the suspension of debt repayments was/is just such a line, which, for reasons that have already been elucidated we question. But the point here is that there is only so much that the correct “line” can achieve. Given the above, it is not surprising that the position we are critiquing here failed to ask difficult questions about the level of support for its chosen strategy. Often it assumed exactly what needed to be shown.

In Greece, even amongst progressive sections of the population, there is widespread skepticism that the existing state can be a vehicle for change in anything resembling a desired direction. This reflects not only the effects of so many years of neo-liberal hegemony but the actual workings of the Greek state – a hierarchical, inefficient, clientelistic and authoritarian state which has served Greek capitalists and their allies well. How to challenge such a state, how to democratize it, how to make it sensitive to social needs, and how to link it to forms of direct democracy would seem to be some of the more pressing questions for the Greek Left. But not for the view we are critiquing here where it is assumed that: 1) the state is in a position to carry out the traditional panoply of leftist economic alternatives and 2) that enough people believe this to be the case. There seems little warrant for either assertion. It is not as if there any easy answers to such questions. But it is difficult to believe that progress can be made without at least setting them, and at various levels. Can, for instance, public sector unions transform themselves to be able to integrate their traditional demands to those consumer groups and social movements demanding better public services?

But are we seriously suggesting that progress towards socialism, or at least a leftist exit from the crisis that opens up new agendas, needs to wait for the resolution of such difficult questions? Of course not, but our objections do resolve around a long debated issue of the Left. In the context of the Greek conjuncture it can be stated simply in terms of whether the programme of the Left can be said to preexist independently of the movement. Notice that this question holds whether we conceive the movement towards a different society in terms of a long process of evolutionary changes within capitalism, in terms of a more condensed period of rupture with the capitalist system or something in between (of intermediate “ruptures” along the path to socialism as left eurocommunists used to argue).

Opponents of the line of exiting the euro and the suspension of debt repayment were/are keen to argue that, whatever we think of the issue, it need not become an obstacle to finding common ground in the here and present. After all nobody in their right minds actually announces a devaluation – just think what would happen to bank deposits on the eve of an election when a victory for the Left was on the cards. But the main issue is whether, in the period when the movement to support a radical break with the present system is emerging, we prioritize the essential unity of the movement and its interconnectedness on common concerns and aspirations, or, on the other hand, the “correct” political line? Is the movement to be divided now because of the very different answers to what a Left government needs to do once in power concerning the exchange rate and reducing the level of debt repayments? More than the actual answer to the question of the appropriate exchange rate regime, it is the priority given to the question that we have found immensely problematic, and especially when it has been used as an excuse to resist social pressures for the unity of the Left in response to the austerity programmes.

Notes
[1] Antarsya represents a political alliance of a number of extra-parliamentary leftist parties from various traditions (Trotskyist, orthodox Marxist, and others). Syriza represents a much larger grouping, in terms of numbers and electoral appeal (it currently has 9 Members of Parliament), based around Synaspismos, the largest Greek Left party after the KKE, with a number of smaller leftist parties also stemming from different traditions (Trotskyist, Maoist, left-eurocommunist etc). The main orthodox communist party, the KKE, remained rather aloof from the debate concerning the euro. While the KKE is a virulently anti-EU party, and is clear that progress to socialism requires Greece leaving not only the euro, but the EU itself, it was, on the whole, unwilling to commit itself to a short-term strategy of exiting the euro.

[2]We are less convinced, however, of the argument that Germany is so committed, as Lapavitsas (2012) seems to believe, to the importance of the euro as a form of world money. Germany, before the euro, was always sceptical about the deutschmark turning into a major reserve currency, and this scepticism has carried over with respect to the euro.

[3] It is an uncomfortable fact for present day supporters of the exit strategy that their approach has so much resonance with the failed “socialist” experience of the early 1980s in Greece. PASOK in that period was also committed to a national road in which industrial policy, planning agreements and socialization of the public sector were to play a major role, in an environment where capital controls, the exchange rate and monetary policy were freely available as policy tools.

[4]Alpha Bank, Greece and Southeastern Europe. Economic & Financial Outlook, n.74, May 2010 (internet: http://www.alpha.gr/files/infoanalyses/Greece_&_Southeastern_201005.pdf).

[5] This, be it noted, does not apply in the case of Ireland.

[6] Thus D. Kazakis, an independent economist, originally from the KKE, has set up his own party with identifiable nationalistic sentiments. Before that his support for the default and exit option ensured that he was given a platform by leftist organizations that should have known better. Another case is that of Spitha (spark), a group that has coalesced around the famous musician Mikis Theodorakis. Theodorakis is a historic figure of the Left, but his increasingly patriotic rhetoric, and some unsavoury company, has meant that it is the nationalistic aspects of the Spitha that dominate.

[7] These two themes are central to Laskos and Tsakalotos’ (2011) book, in Greek, which looks at the Left’s response to the crisis in a historical perspective. The ‘no turning back’ title of the book refers not only to the social democratic and neo-liberal experiments of the post-war period, but also to the Left’s response to the crisis of the 1970s in terms of national strategies, essentially of reconstruction of the domestic economy.

References

Kouvelakis S. (2011) ‘The Greek Cauldron’, New Left Review, 72, November-December, pp. 17-32.

Lapavitsas C., Kaltenbrunner A., Lindo D., Michell J., Painceira J. P., Pires E., Powell J., Stenfors A., Teles E. (2010) Eurozone Crisis: begger thyself and thy neighbour, Research on Money and Finance, Occasional Report.

Lapavitsas C., A. Kaltenbrunner, G. Lambrinidis, D. Lindo, J. Meadway, J. Michell, J.P. Painceira, E. Pires, J. Powell, A. Stenfors, N. Teles y L. Vatikiotis (2011) Breaking Up? A Route Out of the Eurozone Crisis, Research in Money and Finance, Special Report 3.

Lapavitsas K. ‘Default and Exit from the Eurozone: A Radical Left Strategy’, Socialist Register 2012: The Crisis and the Left, vol. 48.

Laskos Ch. and Tsakalotos E. (2011) No Turning Back: capitalist crises, social needs, socialism, KaPsiMi publications, Athens (in Greek).

Lebowitz D. (2003) Beyond Political Economy: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class, Palgrave Macmillan.

Milios J. and Sotiropoulos D. (2009) Rethinking Imperialism: A Study of Capitalist Rule, Palgrave Macmillan.

Milios J. and G. Economakis (2011), ‘The Middle Classes, Class Places, and Class Positions: A Critical Approach to Nicos Poulantzas’s Theory’, Rethinking Marxism Vol. 23 No. 2 (April), pp. 226-245.

Rylmon (2011) ‘There is no quick exit strategy’, Epoxi, 30/12/11.

Suchting W. A. (1983) Marx: An Introduction, Wheatsheaf Books

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