May 7, 2012
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. Read the rest of this entry »
April 21, 2012
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.
April 4, 2012
The return of George Galloway is a political fact. Once expelled from the Labour Party for calling on British soldiers to resist the war in and against Iraq, he became the epitome of opportunistic, celebrity politics since. Under the banner of the Respect Party – a coalition of Trotskyist groups, Labour left locals, and largely Muslim petty bourgeois – he was elected MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, defeating the Labour candidate Oona King. Yet he failed to deliver on anything useful while in parliament. One must not overstate the significance of parliamentary elections as a vehicle for radical social change, but precisely a representative of a small party, agitating on the left, must make sure to do everything possible to maximize the parliamentary presence. One must either reject the parliamentary road altogether, which is leaving a possible lever on the state power unused and uncontested to our political opponents, or one must partake in it, and take it as seriously as one can as a forum for exposing the opposition and expanding practical means of socialist politics. What is disastrous are strategies which try to achieve neither, either by choosing parliamentary methods and abandoning all other modes of struggle altogether, or by the opposite, entering parliament and doing nothing at all with it.
Galloway undertook the latter – for a salary several times that of the median worker, he failed to vote or take part in parliamentary activity almost entirely. Between 2005 and 2009, only eleven MPs voted less often than he did, and that includes the abstentionists of Sinn Fein and the speaker and his deputies, as well as two MPs who died in office. Galloway claimed to have compensated for this by his public activities – making speeches against imperialism, challenging the reactionaries of the US Senate in their own chamber, and so forth. But he had precious little to show for it. Galloway also plays to religious, sectarian sentiments; he fails to clearly distinguish a meaningful anti-imperialism from hypocritical sycophancy towards regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria; the Respect Party itself has consistently shown its opportunism in its dalliances with reactionary religious groups and movements in the UK. His embarrassing participation in the reality TV programme “Celebrity Big Brother” only underlines his activities as being fundamentally opportunistically self-interested, self-aggrandizing, and making a mockery of socialism, which does not need such ‘friends’. Read the rest of this entry »
January 24, 2012
The Egyptian Parliament has just convened, recently elected by a partly proportional and partly district-based system in the first more or less meaningful elections in recent Egyptian history. Confirming the worries I laid out in earlier articles on developments in Egypt, the socialist and liberal parties performed according to their narrow, largely urban working and middle class bases (respectively); the great victory went to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Al-Nour, the more explicitly religious reactionary party. Now the first thing is to dismiss any attempts by Western commentators to condescend toward the Egyptians, to state the results as evidence that Arabs don’t know what is good for them, that pro-Western dictators are better than votes, and so forth. This kind of chauvinistic laziness only serves the interests of the thieving and warmongering cliques around the so-called ‘secular dictators’ in the Arab world, and the interests of the Western governments who supply them with money and arms. Read the rest of this entry »