Euro-crisis – is this the anti-1989?

13 May

Greek masses on the move

1989 was the year that so-called ‘Communism’ in Eastern Europe reached the point of collapse. A collapse that subsequently, as everyone knows, spread to the USSR itself, as this whole bloc of anti-working class tyrannical dictatorships over the working class was swept into the historical dustbin. Unfortunately, it also seemed to have swept the socialist and communist project away with it.

1989 was also the year that Francis Fukuyama, a Japanese-American Professor of political science and ideologue of American imperialism, proclaimed that the ‘The End Of History‘ had arrived, in an audacious attempt to re-appropriate Hegel for the bourgeoisie and turn elements of Marx’s historical vision against Marxism. Fukuyama probably more than anyone else tried to give intellectual coherence to the totalitarian neo-liberal trend that in the past three decades or so has become known as ‘neo-conservatism’. His famous essay declared that all possibility of a systemic political alternative to capitalism and ‘liberal ‘bourgeois democracy had disappeared, and was effectively impossible in the future.

This was an exercise in what many have aptly called ‘bourgeois triumphalism’. It was not the abstract counterposition of political systems that was rendered impossible in Fukuyama’s pseudo-Hegelian scheme, but rather that capitalist class rule was deemed to have decisively won out. This was in fact an example of the bourgeoisie’s false-conciousness, its belief that communism is simply the conspiracy of a handful of malevolent and criminal fanatics, and that therefore the collapse and discredit of the Stalinist regimes, which claimed to speak in Communism’s name, necessarily meant the permanent eclipse and discredit of the very notion of replacing capitalism with socialism.

The bourgeois triumphalism always was based on the self-image of an omnipotent capitalist ruling class, ruling by right, its rule incapable of being threatened by those below seeking society ruled on any other basis but for the profit of such a ruling class. Fukuyama claimed to believe, in the manner of Hegel’s vision of the absolute idea, that capitalist democracy represented the final perfection and ultimate point of evolution of human societies. Whereas Marx took the analytical, logical tools that Hegel generalised from his inverted examination of history from an idealistic standpoint and turned them the right way up, using these tools to examine the dynamics of actually existing societies, particularly capitalist society in his time, and thus elaborate its inner confllict and driving forces, Fukuyama did the exact opposite and substituted captialist democracy for the Prussian monarchial state as the ulimtate realisation of the ideal.

Francis Fukuyama

But the last laugh is with Marx, because it is the material contradictions of capital, that he began to examine using Hegel’s logical tools, that have caused the biggest pan-European crisis since the Second World War and have undoubtedly laid the basis for the re-emergence of working class struggles in a political sense, counterposed to capitalism, to re-emerge as a serious contender for power under, and ultimately against, the capitalist psuedo-democracy that Fukuyama worshipped, and his followers sought to spread across the world at the point of cruise missiles, drones and ultimately the threat of nukes.

The Euro-crisis undoubtedly already is the anti-1989. What does this mean? Does it mean that Communism and revolution is immediately on the agenda in Europe? No, it does not mean that, that would be a complete hallucinogenic fantasy. Some on the left may, with some small degree of justice, point to the objective conditions of the world capitalist economy, its globalisation and internationalisation of the productive forces, and the undoubtedly quite severe economic depression that capitalism has got itself into as evidence that revolution is an immediate possibility.

But this misses out one crucial element of the objective conditions that is essential in discerning whether we are in a revolutionary period or not: the subjective factor. Is the current consciousness of the working class remotely in tune with the tasks of a revolution even if the opportunity were to arrive? The answer can only be, for anyone with eyes to see, a definite No.

Subjective factor and objective factor

This might seem at first like pessimism. Some will accuse me of confusing the objective conditions with the subjective factor, and thereby in some way contributing to spreading despair. They will say that there is a rigid distinction between the objective and subjective, and that all that is necessary to realise the potential of the ‘objective’ conditions is for the subjective to catch up with reality. The problem is with this reasoning is that the subjective state of mind of the working class, its level of class consciousness and its belief at some level that it can be the bearer of some kind of alternative to capitalism, is itself part of what should be referred to as the ‘objective’ conditions for revolution.

This was true in the period of the existence of the USSR, when there was a very flawed socialist and class consciousness that was widespread in the working class, both of the advanced capitalist countries of Europe, to many developing countries that often had terribly deviant Stalinised ‘Communist’ Parties of varying descriptions, which sometimes even committed hideous crimes themselves. But still, at some level, the degree of support for even such deviant, degenerate organistions meant that there was a latent class consciousness there among the masses, that could potentially be drawn on by healthier, revolutionary trends and directed into a genuine revolutionary struggle to uproot capitalism itself in a major social crisis.

Karl Marx

This smouldering flame of latent mass socialist consciousness was extinguished by the final collapse of Stalinism in 1989-91. It was extinguished earlier in the countries ruled by the Stalinist regimes themselves, as the working class for perfectly comprehensible reasons took as good coin the claims to represent ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ of the Stalinist regimes that in fact represented a unique statified, mutant form of capital. This, like the triumphalism of the bourgeoisie, was also a form of false consciousness, this time of the proletariat, and with the fall of Stalinism this spread all over the world along with the bourgeois triumphalism, and represented the temporary extinguishing of the class consciousness of the world proletariat.

However, just as the Olympic flame is being kindled ready to be ferried around the world to symbolise the coming of the farcical extravagance of the London Olympics, a much more important flame is being re-kindled in Greece. The Greek working class, at the very sharpest point of the austerity drive of the European bourgeoisies as a result of the 2007-12 (so far) economic crisis and credit crunch, after years of mass demonstrations and protest general strikes against the austerity, have begun to act as a class in a real way.

They have humiliated the two main parties of Greek bourgeois democracy, the New Democracy and the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), and rendered them incapable of forming a government to the point that new elections are virtually certain to be called. They have done so by supporting a coalition of left-reformists and  environmentalists, SYRIZA, which looks very likely to win the new elections that have been forced on the Greek state by the failure to cobble together a government to continue the hated austerity programme, which above all is about keeping Greece within the Euro and thus keeping the Euro intact at no matter what cost to the Greek working class.

Everyone knows the significance of this from the point of view of the Euro, given SYRIZA’s hostility, and even more that of its base, to the catastrophe of mass austerity being imposed on the Greek working class. SYRIZA came second, defeating PASOK (which despite its name is not a working class party, even of the treacherous pro-capitalist type of Labour in Britain, but an outright capitalist party), in the elections and coming a close second behind New Democracy.

Class independence and the election in Greece

The election of SYRIZA is something that Marxists should critically support. Insofar as the Marxist left in Greece has any influence – and quite a few in Britain for a start do have connections with co-thinkers in Greece, it should be clear that the election of a government dominated by SYRIZA would be an important independent act by the Greek working class that Marxists should support. We should, while not taking responsibility for the overall programme of a SYRIZA government, nevertheless support measures by such a government that are directed against the austerity directed from Brusells, Berlin and Paris, which are certain to continue under the new French President Hollande.

The coming to power of SYRIZA, assuming it happens, would be a major independent act in a political sense by a section of the European working class. It would, however, and will assuming it happens, not in itself be a revolutionary development and there should be no confusion or illusions on that score. Even a government of SYRIZA alone would be a bourgeois government unless it was able to base itself on mass organisations of the working class, analogous to the soviets in the Russian Revolution, and not the bourgeois state, and was determined to carry this out to the end. But that is a very long way from the left-reformist politics of SYRIZA.

It is true that the confrontation of the Greek working class with not only its own ruling class but even more so the chief centres of European capital has revolutionary implications, and it could well develop into an outright revolutionary situation in some possible variants.

The fascist Golden Dawn, as well as the Greek military, are aware of this, while at the same time it is unlikely at this point that the Greek ruling class will call upon them to rule directly, as apart from other considerations as to the risk in the medium-term of even more damage to is class rule, this would itself lead to another major crisis with the EU.

Given the history of Greece, calling for the organised arming of the people to defend democracy and the project of the anti-austerity working class and left against such barbaric forces seems an essential thing to fight for, that is likely to find wide support among even reformist workers.

But it is still the case that revolutionary Marxism is very, very weak all over the world, including in Greece, and this is part of the objective conditions – the ‘subjective’ part of the objective conditions which to be sure is the most pliable and tactile part of those objective conditions, the part most susceptible to change – but a crucial objective factor nevertheless. The lack of mass influence of revolutionary Marxism cannot be overcome without a prolonged period of both political clarification of the necessary strategic positions and perspectives, and party building, everywhere, including Greece.

This ‘objective-subjective’ factor, of the level of ‘background’ class consciousness makes for immense obstacles to a fully developed proletarian revolution at this point. In the event of such a situation emerging anyway it would have a very good chance of leading to a tragedy, perhaps along the lines of the Paris Commune.

These are difficult tactical considerations for Marxists, but the enormous positive aspect of this is that for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, a section of the European working class has struck a key political blow against a core project of capital. That independent mass action signifies the rebirth of independent working class consciousness, albeit still only a left-reformist consciousness. But even that makes it the anti-1989. Once such a consciousness begins to re-kindle, much more becomes possible in the future.


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One response to “Euro-crisis – is this the anti-1989?

  1. David Ellis

    May 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Have you seen Eddie Ford’s piece in this week’s Weekly Worker? Excellent until it ends in these two purely opportunist paragraphs:

    `Yet the problem does not end there. Let us not mince our words. Were such a workers’ government ever formed, then Greece would be immediately kicked out of euro/EU – assuming it had not been already. Without a shadow of doubt, the ‘new’ drachma would be massively devalued, there would a catastrophic economic slump and more likely than not hyperinflation – and that is before things got really bad.

    `What then? Such a government would have absolutely no choice but to preside over its own austerity regime. To keep itself in power and the workers in line, our ‘workers’ government’ would have to resort to authoritarian rule or a military socialism if it wanted to stave off counterrevolution and external intervention/invasion. And in this way they would turn into their opposite. Marxist revolutionaries in Greece must build up the organisational and political strength of the working class, fight to massively extend democracy, including into the army, and take the lead in constructing an all-European working class movement.’

    For a revolutionary party to eschew the taking of power when the taking of power is possible is not just stupid but absolutely criminal. Revolutionary situations are very rare indeed and the consequences of missing one are nearly always massive repression and defeat for the labour movement.

    That is not to say that what we have here is a revolutionary situation. Europe is in pre-revolutionary situation which could transmust into a revolutionary situation tomorrow or equally extend for several years before doing so. Ford gives us the opportunist position which marshals the correct idea that you cannot have socialism in one country to promote the utterly bogus and counter-revolutionary idea that the working class should not or cannot take power in their individual nations but must or can only wait until the whole of the European working class is ready to cordinate a joint revolution. Its dichotomous opposite, the adventurist position, is that Syriza should join forces with the KKE and immediately form a revolutionary workers’ government as if these ephemeral centrists and stalinist outfits were capable or desirous of such a thing. If they were to try it of course they would be leading the vanguard into a bloody mess. Leaving aside the utter undesirability of ever having the Stalinist KKE in power between Ford and this latter position we have as usual the excluded middle where the dialectical truth usually hides out. The grey area if you will. Syriza should have been demanding that Pasok form a minority government and it should have demanded that this government be a workers government. It would have pledged its representatives to vote for all its pro working class measures and against all its anti-working class measures but it would also have eschewed any notion of bringing this government down by vote of no confidence unless of course it had gathered sufficient forces to its banner to be absolutely sure of seizing power for itself. The other thing Syriza’s sectarian attitude to the rank and file of Pasok and the workers that still vote for it and their flirtation with the anti-european Stalinist isolationists of the KKE is to turn the next general election into a referendum on the Euro which Syriza should have been pledging tooth and nail to stay in whilst still of course opposing austerity measures on the working classes. This may well reduce Syriza’s vote when they might initially have looked like they might increase it. It is not of course to late for them to rectify the situation but not too much breath should be held. It depends on the strength and seriousness of the Marxist elements within it.

    Eddie Ford puts the opportunist position perfectly whilst on the blogs a bloke called Prianikoff has managed to promote the adventurist position with equal clarity.

    Did you see that Louis Proyect had a fit when I mentioned on his blog that Syriza should be encouraging the formation of serious anti-fascist committees in every village, town and city? He accused me of having an abnormal psychology as if I was that fascist on trial in Norway. I think he’s another Newman who likes the abstract but mention policy and they don’t like it.


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