Hillel Ticktin: highlighting the possibilities

You can’t just sit and wait

Critique editor Hillel Ticktin takes issue with the line of the Weekly Worker. He spoke to Mark Fischer

The first impression I had of Greece after the deal with the institutions was that the population was in shock. They really did not expect what happened to them. And they are unlikely to accept it very easily. In contrast to what the mainstream press was saying - that is, that the general population were supportive of Tsipras and the line that he had taken - I think that is very unlikely. The big question is how they react now.

Of course, Greece has its history of struggle - its civil war, the period of the colonels, etc - so it is quite likely that there will be a reaction. Although it is taking time to manifest itself.

The division in Syriza - which is often referred to in the press - leads many to presume that there will be some sort of split, with two groups in particular breaking away. That’s possible, but not inevitable. It is clear that there are different factions in the organisation and that there are tensions between them. It is not clear that this will mean a split - the nature of Syriza is that it is a whole collection of different groupings, but you would not actually expect it to break up. The fact that it hasn’t broken up says something and quite what its future is - that’s not very clear.

My general impression is that the Stalinist party - the KKE - has not gained much out of this crisis. Their abstention in the referendum did them no good - the level of abstention was roughly at the level that the organisation achieves in national elections. Having said that, it is also clear that they have a base amongst the manual working class.

Turning to Europe, I think that the euro zone is now finished. This won’t be immediate, but I really can’t see how it can last very long. The line in Germany is very firm and is shared by the both the Social and the Christian Democrats - it is a very rightwing consensus. And without political change in Germany, you can’t really have a euro zone that lasts. Without that change, you essentially have a euro zone in which Germany gets richer and everyone else gets poorer.

The different attitudes came out very sharply in some of the discussions and summits we have seen. Clearly there is an entrenched - and “violent”, according to press reports - difference between France, Italy, the Mediterranean countries, on the one hand, and the likes of Germany, Holland, etc, on the other. That existed previously, but it is far sharper, far more toxic now. It also reflects a material reality, of course - in the relative growth and strength of Germany and the relative stagnation of France. Previously France had been the dominant power in continental Europe, so you have an obvious antagonism there between these two - the key players in the project of Europe.

This is also reflected in growth of national chauvinist sentiment. This is an expression of the fact that there has not been the sort of merging of industries and economies that was one of the stated aims of the European Union. The political background simply isn’t there for that type of process to take place, which is why it seems to me very unlikely that the euro zone can continue.

This is not a startlingly original point to make, of course. Informed bourgeois commentators - in the Financial Times and elsewhere - have been making the point that the euro zone cannot last. A key political question for us therefore is that of the German working class - when is it going to stand up to the bourgeoisie? There are many factors that make that problematic, of course. The merger of East and West Germany effectively created a new workforce and with it new forms of struggle and new political problems.

What about the working class in Europe as a whole? Syriza has been a sort of wake-up call for the left across Europe, but particularly in southern Europe. Although the organisation has betrayed its original programme, that remains true, I think. Yes, right now it is a source of demoralisation - but I wouldn’t put too much stress on that. That is temporary, in my view. The fact that this organisation came into existence at all and that it had its level of popularity and fighting stance is very important.

It was and is a reformist organisation. But, despite this reformist form, it was forced to take on revolutionary content. They were reformists who found that they couldn’t reform. They had to take a much harder line. Despite their formal politics, objective circumstances drove them to a much harder stance. That they backed down eventually should not be a surprise - as I say, Syriza never was a revolutionary organisation. But the fact that over a time it was forced to take a revolutionary position was very important.

The lesson is that there are no national roads to socialism, no socialism in one country. The Bolsheviks were clear that this was impossible. Syriza obviously are not the Bolsheviks, but they too have shown the impossibility of some reformist middle way in one country. But the question is - how will this happen? It is idealist to think you can delay an upsurge in one country for any extended period, when there is no immediate prospect of other countries having a radical left regime or government for some time. Historically, the left has acted when it could act. If you simply say that you have to wait until a whole swathe of countries are ready for radical change, then you may have to wait for several hundred years.

I think these sorts of things will develop in a much more uneven type of way. Just like in 1917, in that sense. Look at the Bolsheviks. They took power with the expectation that their revolution would inspire and galvanise others - which did in fact happen, to a certain extent. But you can’t make your revolution contingent on the certainty of others - and if you can’t be certain, simply stand down? That doesn’t make sense.

Despite the problems of Syriza, they have had an effect across Europe - there is no doubt about that. It failed internally, but it has been a success in highlighting the possibilities of struggle, and the struggle is beginning again in that sense. It has clearly inspired people throughout Europe. In that sense Syriza has been a success. I don’t know if you can expect much more frankly. It isn’t a revolutionary undertaking - it wasn’t that from the start.

There is a danger in what the Weekly Worker is saying - although, you are quite correct about socialism in one country being impossible and so on. With a passive attitude, you would never do anything. To have a perspective of having strong socialist parties in every country - ready to respond with solidarity and revolutions of their own if a more important, more central country than Greece goes socialist - is simply not realistic at the moment. With that method, you just sit and wait - perhaps for 50 or 100 years.

I understand your point, but we have to accept the haphazard way things happen, given the nature of the transitional period we are living in, given the nature of capitalism itself and also given the relatively backward nature of the socialist and left forces that currently exist.