Following a headlong confrontation over the Governor of Wisconsin, the reactionary Scott Walker, and his direct assaults on the public sector unions and their legislative achievements, much of the US left is now abuzz with the resounding failure of the campaign to recall him. In what had been seen as one of the last great revivals of the labor movement in the United States, workers officially and unofficially organized against Walker, even going so far as to occupy the Capitol building and to make the functioning of the Wisconsin legislature impossible. There were massive campaigns for opposition against the anti-union onslaught, and it was seen by many in organized labor as a decisive battle on whether the fight for union rights could be won in America. Laws undermining the public sector unions had already passed without much difficulty in Indiana and Missouri, but were defeated in Ohio. In this way, Wisconsin became something of a battleground, befitting a state which has a reputation for supplying leading politicians of both the left wing and the right wing, relative to American standards. But the Democratic Party took the leadership of the campaign together with the unions, and supplied a weak centrist called Tom Barrett against Walker – a candidate who, as mayor of Milwaukee, failed to even endorse unequivocally the union position, and who had lost the election against Walker in the first place. In the end, Barrett added about 150.000 extra votes, but Walker added 200.000 extra votes, and therefore won by a larger margin than before. For all the union efforts, the Democratic Party nationally put in no real support for the campaign, and President Obama could not be bothered to do more than post a Tweet about it. This despite his pledge, during his own campaigning, that in case of an attack on union organizing he’d “put on a pair of comfortable shoes and join them on the picket line”. Continue reading “Unions and the West: The Scott Walker Affair”
The long-awaited results of the elections for the vouli of the Hellenic Republic are in. In all media, the battle was presented as simple two-sided affair: for or against the austerity policies imposed by the Western European creditor governments and supported by the comprador classes in Greece itself. This was further complicated in electoral terms by the plurality bonus law passed in the last pre-crisis session of parliament, which awards the plurality winner a 50 MP bonus over and above their proportion of the vote. This was transparently intended as an arrangement to assure that PASOK or ND, the two dominant parties, would have to share power as little as possible and to guarantee an oligarchic identical two-party rule in the style of the United States, without having to resort entirely to plurality district-based systems. The bons hommes of ND and PASOK did not count on their support ever seriously falling below the level that would guarantee them power in this way, and yet this is what the current crisis of capitalism has achieved. At the final tally, even with the plurality bonus ND+PASOK stand together at 149 seats, just short of the 151 majority; the first time in post-dictatorial history in Greece that the two parties have not even managed a majority together, let alone separately. Continue reading “The Greek Election Results”
With the crisis progressing ever further to its inevitable denouement, restoring the rate of profit at the expense of the working class and society in general, the political spectrum is inevitably shifted to a more radical composition. This is certainly true of Greece, where the government – a ruthless ‘technocracy’ imposed from above by the creditor states of the European Union – has finally announced they will hold elections soon. The 6th of May will see the last-ditch effort at some semblance of democratic legitimation of the bankers’ coup that saw the PASOK government suborned by the will of international capital, in particular the finance system. The irony of this is that it is the very same finance system which has blossomed out of all proportion due to the inability of capital to find productive investments over the last 20-30 years. The neoliberal era is one of capitalist retrenchment, not just in the face of the working class strength and organization of the 1950s-1970s, nor the many social and cultural revolutions of this period, but at least as much in the face of the fall in the rate of profit. To this is added in the Western countries, where this political paradigm prevails, the effect of ever-increasing competition from eastern and southern Asia. This will in due time reconfigure the world-system to the long-term decline of the primary imperialist powers and those countries dependent on their trade.
Things, in other words, do not look good for the Hellenic Republic on the eve of this historical election, and the political polling reflects this. While the liberal-conservative ND maintains its position somewhat, especially combined with the support of the anti-austerity splitoff, as everywhere else the social-democratic reformists of PASOK have undergone electoral collapse. There is some reason for rejoicing over this, as the corrupt, family and region based duopoly of PASOK and ND has done nothing for the Greek people and has betrayed them at every turn. It was they who saddled the Greek people with impossible debts while spending this money on prestige projects, enriching the middle class in Kolonaki, and buying weaponry to threaten the Turks. It was they who took the inheritance of the overthrow of the Colonels and subsumed Greece to the rule of German and French capital and hitched them to the NATO imperial bandwagon in the name of preserving stability. So, good riddance to them. The left parties, split along sectarian lines but each representing a meaningful proposition for the country, are doing as well as 30% combined; although we must not forget the likelihood of a low turnout among the country’s left out of a justified disillusion with ‘liberal democracy’.
A real concern however, as always with such developments, is the possibility that the rise of the revolutionary democracy is pre-empted by attempts at capitalist restoration at the expense of any remaining democratic norms and restraints – i.e., fascism. This is no mere illusion, and this is shown clearly in Greece. The tabloid press as well as the mainstream papers and TV stations have launched a renewed philistine offensive to pin the blame of Greece’s predicament on the influx of mainly illegal migrants to the country, whether Albanian, from Africa or otherwise. Such cheap foreigner-baiting is a perennial fact of life in Western countries, but always rises in times of crisis and presents a real threat to the safety of foreign workers in Europe and elsewhere. While poor economic climates do deter migration to some extent, the very real differences in wealth for working people between the West and the rest will continue to draw migrants. In the absence of a committed socialist vision among the working class, it is not too difficult to bait them by pointing to the effect of migrants on lowering the wage level, on adding labour competition, and so forth. This is a vulgar economic view, and precisely the sort of superficial analysis Marxist theory is created to combat, but so far neither the KKE nor others have taken their duty entirely seriously in this regard – a reflection of the power of the labour aristocratic ideology in all Western countries.
In addition to this, there has been the rise not just of the reactionary party LAOS, but more significantly of Chrysi Avyi, the “Golden Dawn”. This eloquently named movement is an explicitly neo-Nazi party, presenting a vision of a Greece by and for “Aryans” only, to which by some trick of historical imagination the Greeks themselves are apparently to be counted; having switched from the silly worship of Zeus to a neo-Orthodoxy, they appeal to clerical elements in competition with LAOS; and they explicitly use Nazi symbolism in flags, rallies, and so forth, taking care to make themselves a physical presence in working class neighbourhoods in Athens and elsewhere. Normally, such movements remain fringe, fall apart under internal contradictions, and cannot move beyond the occasional lynching of an unfortunate migrant. But under the pressure of the crisis, the situation hardens, and this movement in its explicitly fascist form is now polling at 5%, sufficient to present MPs in the Vouli in May.
This raises the real threat of fascist consolidation in the political sphere. They go far beyond the prospects of a BNP, and shed their ‘national’ and ‘democratic’ hypocrisy to a far greater degree still than the Front National in France or even the NPD in Germany, but the rise of such movements with considerable mass support across Europe is a deeply worrying development. Hungary has already demonstrated that mainstream, liberal politics is by no means capable of resisting the fascist challenge when confronted with it. It is a real threat in a time when capitalism along liberal-‘democratic’ lines seems to offer no way out and the left is not (yet) capable of rising to the challenge itself. For now, in most countries the groups are still marginal, and even in Hungary by no means yet ready to seize power. But the historical examples of fascism in Europe demonstrate how quickly such a transformation can occur – it takes but a few years of extended crisis and inability of the parties of the mainstream to deal with it. This is by no means inconceivable today.
Does this mean Greece is in a Weimar situation? My answer is: not yet. Chrysi Avyi nor LAOS has sufficient mass support to make this a reality, and Greece is in fact (to its great credit) one of the few countries where the left forces are overtaking the right in responding to the crisis of capitalism; a pattern we may yet see in France as well. Nonetheless, the predicament Greece is in must not be underestimated, nor should the consequences be. Greece has effectively defaulted on a portion of its debt already, but is still unable to repay, and must therefore default more systematically. The only way to do this within capitalism and without enormous losses of living standards is by devaluation of the currency, confiscation through taxes or otherwise of much of the assets of the wealthy inside and outside the country, and finally a repudation of the debts to foreign creditors combined with a national investment programme forcing the liquid assets to be used productively. However, such solutions are and will remain impossible on the basis of any government beholden to the interests of foreign creditors and the European Union political commitments to that class, as the German response to the possibility of devaluation (by leaving the Eurozone) has shown. Moreover, ND will never be capable of such a response as they are too reliant on precisely those classes that have benefited from the situation: the Greek commercial capitalists, bankers and shipping magnates, the tax-dodging doctors and lawyers of Kolonaki, and even the labour aristocrats from those sectors dependent on German and French investment.
For these reasons, unless some sudden change of perspective grips either the comprador technocrats ruling Greece or the creditors’ representatives wrapping themselves in the flag of the Pan-European Idea, we will continue to see a gridlocked government in Greece while the living standards can be expected to decline further. Under such circumstances, a fascist solution or a coup de main is not off the table. Already, the Greek cabinet members cannot show themselves in public unguarded for fear of their lives, and one of the last acts of the original PASOK government was to replace the heads of the military branches, whose loyalty was apparently not certain. This is not yet quite Weimar, 1932, but it could perhaps be compared to Weimar, 1928. The fascists in Greece hitherto lack any annexationist impulse, and have none of the class potential to that effect that supported the NSDAP in Germany, as I analyzed in previous writing. We must therefore hope the left in Greece can overcome its divisions in the face of this remote, but real threat. With an eye to elections in France, to the situation in Hungary and Romania, and the prospects of a socialist answer to the crisis of capitalism, much may turn out to depend on this.
“Half my friends are dead.
I will make you new ones, said earth.
No, give me them back, as they were, instead,
with faults and all, I cried.”
– Derek Walcott, Sea Canes
The massacre of scores of innocent and unsuspecting Norwegians by a right-wing extremist would normally leave little room for commentary or analysis. The actions of madmen are like natural disasters: they can evoke awe and terror, pity and fear, but since they are bereft of rationale they do not lend themselves to the normal processes of abstract reason, appealing to raw emotion only. But the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, in bombing a government headquarters in Oslo and simultaneously executing in cold blood a large number of young people gathered for the summer camp of the Norwegian social-democratic youth wing AUF, are not entirely of this kind. Firstly, because the man does not appear to be insane, but on the contrary very much in control of his faculties. His hastily cribbed manifesto in favor of a restoration of Europe against the perceived threat of Islam and immigration generally contains nothing that has not been done before, and does not rate him as a particularly intelligent man, unlike for example the terrorist Kaczynski. Its clichés are as dull as they are plagiarized. But the mode in which the terrorist attack was undertaken suggests it was the fruit of years of careful planning, as some of his statements on online accounts also seem to indicate, and he effected his plans with consummate skill and care. Unlike most madmen is also his decision not to commit suicide after his deeds, but to actually surrender to the police when they finally arrived. Presumably his motive was to publicize his political views further, and he seems to have succeeded in this as well.
Much has now been written about his ideas: his identification as a ‘conservative Christian’, his hatred for ‘multicultural’ Norway (such as it is), the paranoid fear of an all-encompassing Islamic conspiracy brought into Europe by means of the Trojan Horse of immigrants and refugees, and pulled happily into the gates by ‘cultural Marxist’ social-democratic politicians, who thereby are ipso facto traitors to Europe’s identity and survival. Much of this is the usual fare accompanying the revival of the European ultra-right in recent years, but that it actually inspired someone to go about not attacking some unsuspecting Afghan refugee in an alleyway, but systematically attempting to murder the next generation of social-democrats is a completely new (though not unpredictable) development. That the killer was so astoundingly efficient at his operation is thereby all the more frightening. While we, as the real ‘cultural Marxists’ (!), will continue to have our strong differences with the mainstay of continental social-democracy – itself trending ever rightward under the pressure of Europe’s fascistoid nouvelle vague in politics – this case of mistaken identity on the part of Breivik and his ‘peaceful’ fellow travellers hardly diminishes how serious the implications of this threat are. Not since the Gladio/P2 conspiracies in Italy in the 1970s and early 1980s has there been such a direct assault by what are essentially fascist elements (whatever romantic reactionary garb they may clothe themselves in, whether Knights Templar or Roman legions) on the organized left, broadly understood. With members of Italy’s Lega Nord already underlining their essential agreement with Breivik on his political outlook, and with the political fortunes of Hungarian fascists and immigrant-baiters such as Geert Wilders and Jean-Marie Le Pen waxing, this threat is considerably more serious in the longer run than the occasional islamist fanatic. The latter have no meaningful organisation and no power, and chances of them obtaining any are negligible; the same cannot be said for the former.
The sad occasion, as is often unfortunately the case, also presents an opportunity for socialism. Now is the chance to see the folly of the attempts by so many social-democratic and ‘left’ parties to attempt to appease the right-wing and the traditionalist currents in European politics. Now is the chance to stand by workers and taxpayers, no matter where they are from, and to reject the politics of xenophobia and division in clear terms. Now too is the chance to take the threat of the new fascism and its fellow travellers seriously, including the very real physical aspects of this threat. Now is also the chance to reject the failed politics of the incoherent ‘War on Terror’, which did nothing to prevent or even consider this massacre, one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Europe in decades. Now is the chance to reject the American-inspired policies of repressing the people’s civil liberties while engaging in one hopeless crusading adventure abroad after another, while the snake of fascism rears its ugly head at home. Whatever one may think of their political position in general then, all plaudits should go to the government of Norway, led by Jens Stoltenberg, and its admirable response to this event. In the best traditions of socialism, unexpected perhaps from the usually jelly-kneed social-democratic political class of today, Stoltenberg and his associates have immediately made clear that they will not respond with stricter laws, ad-hoc repression of liberties, or calls for executions; nor will they entertain the idea that the presence of migrants among them is in any way the ‘real cause’ of Breivik’s actions. They have singularly refused to change the peaceful and cooperative tone that usually characterizes Norwegian politics and have correctly identified Breivik’s own hatred as the real cause, not its victims. In rejecting both the temptation of the police state and the scapegoating of the migrants, Stoltenberg and his colleagues have shown themselves true statesmen and -women. All praise also for the people of Norway, who have immediately responded in kind to this appeal to their common social-democratic tradition: they have shown solidarity, rather than xenophobia, and pity, not hatred.
Surely one cannot pretend in too naive terms that all political issues let themselves be buried in the spirit of brotherhood without further ado, even in Norway. One can certainly ask pointed questions about the Norwegian contingent in Afghanistan, and one should not forget that it is mainly its position as an oil rentier state that allows Norwegian politics to be so peaceful and so close to ‘the administration of things’, as socialists used to see the ideal politics free from class conflict. But this in no way diminishes the impressive nature of the Norwegian response to this tragedy, compared to which the vengeful instincts of powerful groups of people in for example the United States or India, after similar events, stand out as shrill. Perhaps this moment of reflection then can give us a sign that European social-democracy, within which Norway certainly represents its more ‘old school’ wing, still has strength and potential for a real socialist stance that stands out among the warmongers and immigrant-hunters of today. It is a tragedy that such a moment had to be bought at such a terrible price.
The case of SPC Bradley Manning, held indefinitely in isolation in a Navy brig in Quantico, Virginia, is taking on ever more ridiculous proportions. Manning was arrested after it became known that he was the primary source for leaking a large amount of classified diplomatic information to the organisation Wikileaks, which then distributed this to the general public. An honest country has nothing to fear if its diplomatic efforts become known, since they will reveal the legitimate and peace-seeking nature of its dealings. The United States, on the other hand, went for a policy which is best summarized by its own expression ‘shooting the messenger’. They immediately imprisoned Manning, who had been military intelligence officer in occupied Iraq, for his actions. He has been held in isolation for 10 months, prevented from having any contact with the outside world, is kept in jail for 23 out of 24 hours, and even forbidden to work out by doing pushups in his cell, lest this embolden his spirits. It is not sufficient – the prison regime in the navy barracks has now announced that he must also sleep naked in his cell (on a bed made of a concrete slab) and even attend morning roll call in the nude.(1) Continue reading “The Manning case”