October 18, 2012
There are perhaps not many places in the world where it is possible for several general strikes to follow in succession, uniting private sector workers, public sector workers, officials, even shopkeepers in resistance to the politics of the government, and yet little seems to change. But this is the case in Greece, where today once more Syntagma was filled with the banners and shouting of demonstrators protesting against the austerity policies of the old oligarchy ruling the country. Let nobody be deceived about how dire the situation truly is: this summer, Greek unemployment hit an official 25%, with more than half the young population out of work, and the real figure is almost certainly higher due to the number of workforce ‘dropouts’ and the considerable informal sector in the country. Educated Greeks try to flee the country en masse for any place that will have them, while paramilitary toughs in black uniforms roam the streets, beating up immigrant pedlars and gay actors alike without any repercussion. The police force is now estimated to be majority at least passive supporters of the fascist movement Chrysi Avyi, a situation no European country has seen since the fall of Berlin. The enormous increases in the contradictions between the different sectors of society is making itself felt across the country as a consequence of the deeply severe ‘austerity’ imposed by order of the creditor countries to which Greece, despite previous partial defaults, remains hopelessly indebted. Indeed, the policies of shoving the costs of repayments off onto the masses of the population not only increases insecurity and resentment against foreigners and outsiders, putting lives at risk, but also so deeply damages the short and medium-term income of the working classes and small bourgeoisie, so that state policy appears as the despairing attempts of a dog to bite itself in the tail.
However, that this strategy can only further sharpen the political and economic contradictions is something clear enough to the oligarchy both within and without Greece. This is not, as some (post-)Keyenesians would have it, a mere manner of stupidity, a strategy for capital that cannot possibly work. Instead, it is the only possible strategy for capital under the circumstances of the country. It must not be forgotten that there are two forces at work here: one is the bourgeoisie of Greece and its ossified, entrenched political establishment, which attempts by means of ‘austerity’ to present the Greek people with the bill of its own mismanagement, corruption, and prestige spending. The other force is the creditor classes of northern Europe, the Germans, Dutch, Austrians and so forth. Not only is their credit to the Greek state in peril, but more generally this threatens the position of the credibility of all European states altogether, because of their monetary union. In the final instance, the credibility of a currency stands or falls with the credibility of the issuing state vis-á-vis the creditor classes, most particularly the financial speculators and banks, and vast sums of fictitious capital have already been conjured into existence to prop up the appearance of liquidity among states and banks alike.
But the irony is, as Marx so well understood but even many of the ‘Keynesians’ do not, that the more the capitalist classes of Europe attempt to stave off disaster by further ‘quantitative easing’ and further cheap credit, the worse they make it for themselves in the long run. All this accumulation of fictitious capital only serves in the longer run to further depress the rate of profit. Therefore, those states in which austerity is followed either directly on behalf of the financier class (as in the UK), or indirectly by foreign imposition, as in Greece and to a lesser extent other debtor states of southern Europe, are perfectly following capitalist rationality to its final end-point. Only the destruction of value on a large scale, the failure of many of the national capitalists and much of the credibility of the financial institutions, the destitution and devastation of much of the European population, and the generation of an enormous ‘reserve army of labour’ in the form of mass unemployment, can in the long run restore the rate of profit in value terms.
This implies that any other strategy is a strategy of deception: it will prop up the capitalist institutions of today in appearance, and thereby seem to prevent a freefall in the living standards of middle and working class alike; but in the longer term, it will inhibit further capitalist investment, burden an already low-liquidity system with more debt, and eventually an even greater and more severe crisis will be the consequence. It doesn’t matter how well the post-Keynesians regard the European peoples and their struggle, no matter how good their intent in attempting to stop the vicious and regressive campaigns to maintain the position of a proportionally tiny group of financiers and creditor organizations as myopic as they are self-seeking. If they attempt to tell the Greeks and other suffering peoples that the capitalist order can prevail but without having to also accept its terms and conditions, they are consciously or not deceiving the population as to the true nature of capitalist crisis.
The political consequences of this are dire, because it will work in favour of the decaying social-democratic forces whose strength diminishes by the day, and who can form no secure basis for the future, and it will also encourage those – such as the fascists – who consider the crisis to be a purely contingent phenomenon, the fault of ‘international bankers’, foreign impositions, money crankery, or even immigrants and refugees. To politically confront the consequences of capitalist crisis, we must be honest about what we are facing: capitalism will always return to crisis, no matter how many counter-cyclical measures and state investment programmes are undertaken. If the rate of profit is not restored, instead of papering over the crisis by accumulating further debt and shifting vast sums of value artificially towards the financial institutions and the speculators, the consequences can only be a greater crisis in 10, 15, 20 years’ time, and in the short run a tremendous waste of the people’s money on bailing out insolvent capitalist entities to which they owe nothing.
It is of course understandable that such sentiment has become so widespread. For the latter day fans of laissez-faire and for the lackeys of the financier class the situation is clear enough: where profit rates cannot be maintained, the population must pay and overaccumulated value must be destroyed one way or another until investment once more resumes. The balance within the capitalist class between the interests of industry and of finance in this battle is essentially a political question, and in Europe today it is the financiers who hold the power, especially in Britain. But for many people the situation is in absolute terms not yet dire enough to create a truly revolutionary prospect: the workers of Europe have still too much to lose for that, in particular the older workers who have built up pensions, own houses, and have accumulated all manner of stakes in society in the waning years of the social-democratic consensus. Demographically, this is the largest group. At the same time, it is clear that their position and that of their children is being rapidly undermined by forces outside their control, and this creates a great unrest and a great wave of resentment and sentimental opprobrium.
Much of the protest resulting from this is essentially romantic reactionary and disorganized in nature, involving great numbers of people attempting by sheer anger and indignation to restore a situation of ‘fairness’, ‘democracy’, the ‘welfare state’, and so forth; essentially backward-looking idealizations of the existing political economic order, which no amount of demonstrating or striking will bring back. In Spain, the hundreds of thousands who took the streets even identified themselves as the indignados, each called to the streets by the same justified fear and loathing produced by the current crisis, but all individually seeking a return of the good old times of secure work and fair pay. Such times, if they ever existed, will not return. This crisis heralds the final phase of social-democracy, and it is a losing game for capitalism. This is why no government anywhere has ceded even the slightest demand to these protestors, and why they have been unable to translate their numbers and courage into a political change: they fear damaging the political structure of their societies just as much as they fear its continuation, and therefore rhetoric and moral appeals are their only weapons.
In Greece, the left opposition party SYRIZA is the best expression of this. While it contains a number of serious revolutionary organizations in its ranks, its leadership represents the Greek masses very well indeed – it seeks to do away with the debt burden without doing away with the monetary union, it seeks to oppose austerity without confronting the logic of capital, it wants to do away with the old oligarchy without extra-parliamentary mobilization, and it utterly fails to recognize the looming threat of fascism on the horizon, focused as it is on achieving the impossible and incoherent. This is not to sneer at the Greeks. Indeed, not only has the period of roughly 1980 to 2004 been one of enormous increases in the Greek standard of living and a modernization of the country in technological and prestige terms, but the membership of the European political and economic system has made the Greeks feel safely included in the common European project, has given them hope for the future after the long darkness of dictatorship and Cold War strife, and made it seem like the only way to go was up. This is indeed a bitter awakening for the self-proclaimed ‘cradle of democracy’.
One can argue forever about to which extent the Greek people let themselves be bribed and sung to sleep, their Argus eyes closed by the soothing melodies of road-building, Olympic games, peace with the Turks, and all this without any apparent need for state revenues. What matters is that they are now being made to pay the price for the greatest global crisis since the Great Depression, most of which was none of their making and totally beyond their ken. We must not try to lull the Greeks again with easy tales of Keynesian investment and the return of the drachma solving all the economic problems. That which capital has made can only be unmade with the overcoming of capital’s logic itself. It is well possible the current crisis will resolve itself outside Greece far before this point is reached politically; in that case, all will probably go back to sleep again, and will have an even more rude awakening in 15 years or so. If this does not happen, and the crisis endures without a clear explanation of its causes, its logic, and its consequences, the temptation for masses and bourgeoisie alike to force a solution will become very great. Here, history provides us with but two examples. It shows us either the colonization of Greece, Ottoman Turkey, Egypt, and the like by the European creditor powers, impoverishing the masses and inhibiting their political struggles for decades; or the course of the Weimar republic and its inability to overcome the contradictions of that society, after which the revanchist powers forced a ‘final solution’ on their own account. The former was the solution of the 19th century, the latter that of the 20th. It is time for a different solution for our age. The tocsin rings for Greece, and all who wish her well must heed the warning.
April 14, 2011
Many Marxists have been great theorists. Equally many, perhaps more, have been great practical men and women: great organizers, trade unionists, and practical politicians. Unfortunately, what has been most rare are the people whose genius resides in their grasp of the intermediate field, the field of understanding the implications of general theory for a particular case. This field, what one might call applied theory or political interpretation of theory, is perhaps the most difficult of all. For that reason, insofar as it has been done at all it seems to have been the domain of leaders of petty sects and mini-parties. Their obvious lack of success has led many to think that there is nothing to it: either that one cannot make general rules about the application of Marxist theory in a specific case, or that it is a matter of the individual genius of particular politicians, e.g. Lenin. The latter seems hard to reconcile with the principles of historical materialism and tends to lead to cults of authority, something Marx and Engels always despised and which tends to impede the communist movement. The former is more defensible, but while flexible seems to dangerously underutilize the long experience of Marxism as a tradition and movement. After all, ‘best practice’ is important in any learning, and internationalism demands that we look to experiences of other countries in other times to see how we can improve on ourselves. It is also useful if there is a coherence to our approach, not in the last place with the aim of showing how Marxism can actually help a workers’ movement. Moreover, Marx and Engels themselves were highly active in the political organisational matters of their time, and so were many of the great theorists after them, whether Rosa Luxemburg or Lenin or even Huey Newton. For these reasons, it is interesting to study better the materials that exist on the interpretation of Marxism, in particular the ‘Marxism’ of Marx and Engels themselves, to the level of practical politics, the kind that is reported upon in the newspapers and debated in the parliaments. Read the rest of this entry »
October 27, 2010
Despite all the violent efforts of the Indian armies and the government death squads known as the ‘Salwa Judum’, the Naxalite rebellion in India is far from suppressed. The Indian government recently claimed victory in forcing the Naxalites out of the poor state Andhra Pradesh, but current reports on the ground contradict the idea that the Naxal militias have actually been driven off. What’s more, the Indian state has hardly gained the propaganda war in the state either: a recent poll in the ‘Naxal-affected areas’ of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra indicated that among the group aged 25-50 (basically the young and middle aged workers, the basic constituent group for either side in terms of support) in the lower income categories B and C on the socio-economic scale indicated that 58% felt the Maoist movement had actually done the area good. Another one-third said the movement had the right intentions but used the wrong means to go about it, with just 15% being willing to describe them as bandits (‘goondas’).(1) For a movement repeatedly described by government and major media in India alike as “India’s biggest security threat”, this is a revealing figure. Read the rest of this entry »
September 21, 2010
In the last article on the fake left, one of the greatest menaces to socialist politics in the West today, I criticized the hypocrisy of the Euston Manifesto clique. Now it is time to turn towards their American equivalent, the so-called Cold War liberals and the supposed ‘radical democrats’ who represent the left foot of imperialism. For several decades they have found their home at Dissent magazine and its sister paper Democratiya, which recently has merged into the former. It is worth taking a brief look at the content and outlook of these bulwarks of false leftism in America, since they are all too common among the intelligentsia in the wake of the massive expansion of militarism in the West since the days of Eisenhower-Kennedy. Moreover, it is precisely the claims to left-wing, even socialist, legitimacy that makes these tendencies of thought so dangerous; it hopelessly muddles the boundaries between genuine socialism of whatever stripe and a liberalism that is dressed up in the language of the social-democracy of old but has more in common with Noske than with Marx. It is not because of sectarianism that we must insist on the importance of differentiating an essentially liberal attitude to politics – even a ‘left liberal’ one – and socialism, but it is because sometimes a similarity of language can mask highly significant differences in the goals either group genuinely seeks and the interests they represent in practice. Read the rest of this entry »