Taking up extreme opposition
The victory of the troika's patsies in the Greek elections should be met with determined class resistance - across Europe, argues Paul Demarty
Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy party, has been sworn in as prime minister after coming to a coalition deal with the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) and the Democratic Left (Dimar), the current incarnation of the most rightwing faction of Greece’s fractious Eurocommunist milieu. These three parties - thanks to the bizarre constitutional regulation that adds 50 seats (a sixth of the total in the Greek legislature!) to the tally of the first placed party - command a majority, despite commanding barely 40% of the vote between them.
The international bourgeoisie has got the result it pulled out every stop to engineer. It started with talk, in the wake of last month’s abortive poll, of denying the 50-seat top-up to Syriza on the grounds that it was a coalition rather than a party (Syriza quickly returned the relevant forms to become one). The press screeched wildly about Alexis Tsipras, allegedly some kind of ranting communist lunatic, getting hold of the reins of power in Greece.
It wailed even louder about the consequences of a Greek exit from the euro zone. Initially, the European establishment tried to simulate insouciance - the relevant ‘firewalls’ had gone up, there was no chance of a Greek ‘contagion’ spreading to the heart of the euro zone ...
As Syriza looked that it might possibly edge to a narrow lead over ND, however, the tone changed. The very economic existence, not just of Greece, or of Europe, but the entire world, it seemed at times, depended on the Greeks swallowing the sick in their mouths and returning that utterly compromised mediocrity, Samaras, to power. Out went the rather abstract portmanteau, ‘Grexit’, as a name for a Greek exit from the euro; in came the rather more urgent ‘Drachmageddon’.
It’s not over
So how grateful is the international ruling class for this last-minute rescue from perdition? The short answer is: not very. Markets rallied for a whole hour on Monday morning; then Samaras’s guff about national salvation was entirely drowned out by the Spanish government’s pleading for a bailout. The childish spat at the G20 summit in Mexico between American dignitaries and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso over the causes of the euro zone crisis - ‘They started it!’ - only added to the din. Any sensible person in the world, let alone the financial ‘masters of the universe’ who insist on speaking in the name of the markets, can see that the euro zone is still circling the drain.
All this is of tangential importance to the Greek masses, for whom - whatever the outcome of the Obama- Barroso slap-fight, the ECB-Spanish bailout negotiations and everything else - the future is presently a bleak one. They were presented with a stark choice: euro or bust. Just about enough of them chose the former to hand power to Samaras and ND.
What will they do with this power? Given the high drama of the election, Samaras is doing a pretty unconvincing impression of tough talk. There must be renegotiation of the terms of the Greek bailout. The population will not take any more austerity measures (frankly, it is pretty hard to see what else there is to cut).
Can anyone be convinced by this? Samaras and his allies have staked everything on staying in the euro. The ‘nuclear option’ of unilateral withdrawal - taking France down with Greece and Germany down with France and the world down with Germany - is not available to him. He has no negotiating position to speak of. He will no doubt squeeze a few trifling concessions from the troika. Beyond that, they will tell him where to get off. (It is all but politically impossible for Angela Merkel, with polls suggesting that 49% of Germans support a Greek exit from the euro zone, to give a huge amount in the way of concessions.)
At least he will be able to implement the terms of the infamous memorandum without personal discomfort. Like any rightwing career politician of the last 30 years, Samaras will revel in the slash-and-burn class offensive that awaits - indeed, that has already been going on for years. He promises national salvation - but anyone who has not already twigged will soon learn that the salvation he offers comes at the price of martyrdom.
What, then, of Syriza? Reports indicate that, despite its narrow defeat, the coalition-turned-party is jubilant. Indeed, it has just reason for being so - it has tripled its vote in a matter of a few years, and now sits pretty as the main opposition party, with a substantial share of parliamentary seats. Tsipras and his allies are a far cry from that loud-mouthed radicals portrayed in the bourgeois press - they are canny politicians, who will not be unaware of the benefits of opposition, despite their apparent enthusiasm for forming a ‘left government’.
“This is only a temporary state of affairs,” says Syriza’s Panagiotis Lafazanis. “These barbaric measures cannot continue. Very soon everything will change.” Commentators, in the media and high finance alike, are united in expecting the new government to be a short one, with yet another election in six months. Syriza will be confident of its chances, should that come to pass.
Fetishising the EU
The far left has found itself in two minds over Syriza; while the latter’s remarkable and sudden electoral ascendancy has rightly been welcomed, as a sign that the Greek masses are not ready to roll over yet and also a sign that the left - for now - is benefiting more than the far right from popular anger (compare France), its political character has caused some consternation. Overwhelmingly, this hinges on the problem of the EU. Syriza, broadly speaking, wants Europe without the memorandum. Most far-left groups, on the other hand, are committed to calling for a unilateral withdrawal - both for Greece and for everyone else.
This position, to state things bluntly, amounts to a hopeless, petty bourgeois utopianism. In order to demonstrate what is, after all, a casually overused polemical dismissal of an opponent’s position on the far left, let us take a closer look.
At the core of this policy are two different ideas. In Stalinist and Labourite variants, the EU represents a block on national sovereignty, and thus an obstacle to the fulfilment of a broadly leftist programme of some future social democratic government. In this form, it is quite transparently naive, as a serious look at Britain’s relation to the world state system will attest. Despite membership of the EU, Britain is in its essentials dependent on the US, with whom it is in close strategic alliance. Its role in the EU, in practice, has been to pursue policies congruent with the interests of the US state department.
The choice actually posed for any serious party of government in Europe is not subservience to Germany or full national sovereignty, but rather subservience to Germany or subservience to the United States. A nationalist autarky is simply a direct road to economic devastation; this argument against the EU ‘bosses’ club’ falls to the same critique of ‘socialism in one country’ that has been good all along.
The more ‘leftist’ variant (where it is theorised at all) posits that the EU amounts to a common bloc of all Europe’s exploiters, and a position of strength from which exploitation can be ever-further intensified. Thus, forcing its break-up amounts to a strategic gain for the working class of all countries, who will then be able to enter into more meaningful solidarity with each other.
In its various Trotskyist and post- Trotskyist forms, this is rendered problematic by its partial contradiction with the policy of the Bolsheviks. Lenin uses a telling example, arguing against pacifist opposition to World War I:
“The bourgeoisie makes it its business to promote trusts, drive women and children into the factories, subject them to corruption and suffering, condemn them to extreme poverty. We do not ‘demand’ such development, we do not ‘support’ it. We fight it. But how do we fight? We explain that trusts and the employment of women in industry are progressive. We do not want a return to the handicraft system, pre-monopoly capitalism, domestic drudgery for women. Forward through the trusts, etc - and beyond them to socialism!”
This is not a fatal problem - even the most robotic ‘Leninist’ in the world would accept that Ilyich was wrong on this or that. What is fatal is that, in this instance, Lenin merely concretises with a couple of examples what is quite straightforwardly a fundamental principle of Marxist theory - that it is capitalism, in its fullest development, which makes communism possible.
If the break-up of the European Union is ‘progressive’ by virtue of divesting the class enemy of a key weapon, then the same is true of the break-up of transnational corporations, which equally use the divisions between states to heighten exploitation. From there, there is no reason to consider national-scale big capital progressive with regard to local, medium capital; and so on, until we are left with individual family enterprises, whereby a petty bourgeois is at least only able to exploit his wife and children.
The conclusion is thereby inescapable - where Marx argued that socialism was made possible by capitalism, through its progressive socialisation of production, and through its (limited) tendency to overcome national barriers, one would (on this argument) have to say on the contrary that capitalism makes socialism more remote, and the whole theory and practice of historical materialism must thereby be junked.
Nobody - except certain Greens - would actually make these arguments; but the truth is that the left’s fetishism of EU withdrawal is at the most fundamental level a petty bourgeois, anti-Marxist position, which can only be ‘reconciled’ with Marxism through an equally petty bourgeois eclecticism.
The inadequacy of this perspective is crystal-clear in the Greek case. It is simply not true that the Greek crisis is something that is being done to Greece by Germany with the EU as a weapon. It is a product of a properly global crisis, which in turn results from global and highly uneven relations between states.
Greece and Europe
If some truly dreadful misfortune should befall Samaras in the next few days, and Syriza is propelled into government, it will face - in reality - the same unpalatable choices. There is no serious possibility of a Greek national autarky; any return to the drachma will be accompanied by runaway inflation; and the social devastation that results will be quite as terrible, if not more so, than anything Samaras or the troika could dream up.
Getting out of this impossible choice means breaking working class political action out of its various national cages, and building united action and organisation across the continent. This is not some far-fetched pipe dream. At a time when strikes and protest movements are popping up everywhere, the failure of our side to coordinate action - and the blasé attitude of the far left to this task - represents a criminal waste of opportunity. Such European unity must be accompanied not by foolish attempts to form a Syriza-type ‘workers’ government’ in a single country, but a position of extreme opposition - not just to austerity, but to the capitalist state and the entire bourgeois order
In the next six months - or however long the new Greek government can put up with the work of ‘national salvation’ - Syriza and the Greek far left will not be kicking their heels. Neither should any comrade on the continent. No nationalist delusions should be entertained - from the EU, as from all the products of capitalist society, the only way out is through.
1 . The Guardian June 19.
2 . Partial, due to Lenin’s polemics against the ‘United States of Europe’ slogan along similar lines. That slogan, however, was later adopted by Comintern, without any apparent dissent on his part.
3 . www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/ miliprog/ii.htm.