Monday, 16 February 2015

A Programme For Greece

As Greece faces its banks being cut off from the ECB, and a refusal by the EU leaders to reach any deal over its debts, how should Syriza respond? The starting point must be a realistic assessment of the situation in Greece.

Firstly, its quite clear that Greece cannot repay the €314 billion of debt it owes. Secondly, the policy of austerity imposed upon it, has made the situation worse rather than better. It has collapsed the Greek economy, making it even more difficult for capital in Greece to expand, and so deal with some of that debt. That is why debt has gone from 120% of GDP to more like 180%. If austerity has made the situation worse already, it is not going to make it better in future.

Thirdly, the idea that Greek workers are going to be saved as a result of a revolutionary wave across Europe, is a dangerous fantasy. Syriza has given a boost to the growing sentiment against austerity across Europe, but that is a far cry from workers creating soviets and establishing dual power. The reality is that Syriza has to focus on what it can do within Greece, whilst continuing to try to mobilise international support. Socialists across Europe, should attempt to assist them in spreading the struggle, and building opposition to austerity.

Fourthly, a failure by Syriza will not lead to them being replaced by some groundswell to their Left. It will lead to the masses turning to reaction, especially in conditions of chaos. It will be a period when a traditional party of order will come to the fore, including in the shape of the military, or paramilitaries like Golden Dawn.

Fifthly, any attempt to pre-empt that by measures to disband the army, withdraw from NATO and so on, as Paul Mason has noted, is more likely to provoke a confrontation than is Syriza's economic policy. At this stage it would be pure adventurism. A failing of the left, in general has been to focus on pulling things down, rather than building things up. The more sensible strategy is to ensure that you have built a credible and superior alternative, before you tear down the old rotten edifices.

A programme for Greece, should, therefore, focus on building a workers alternative first, rather than simply being an anti-capitalist adventure. The fact is that austerity is forcing workers in Greece to develop the kinds of alternative they need already. Greece like most advanced capitalist economies had developed a welfare state. Such states undermine the development of the kind of workers self government that Marx and the First International sought to develop as the concomitant of worker owned and controlled property, and socialised capital. Marxists would not advocate austerity or privatisation, but austerity, by shrinking the size of the state, so drastically, in Greece, has forced workers to replace state capitalist provision of essential services, by developing their own, co-operative provision. Its something that in the past has happened in Argentina, for example. In fact, it was recognition and analysis of these spontaneous solutions by workers, in the 19th century, that led Marx and Engels, to generalise that lesson, and call on workers to develop such co-operatives.

The starting point for a solution to the situation in Greece is the spreading of such co-operatives across the country. What is really required, as Marx and the First International proposed, is actually that all of these co-ops be brought together in a co-operative federation, which ideally, in the first instance, should operate across the EU. In that way, each co-op is prevented from isolation, and the entire capital of the co-operative federation can be brought to bear effectively.

Immediately, within Greece, it is necessary to begin to weld together the existing co-operatives, and to forge close links between them and the trades unions, as well as tenants and residents organisations, so that increasingly the workers communities themselves can be organised on the basis of a co-operative commonwealth.

That in itself, naturally leads to the question of political organisation, and forms of democracy, so that decisions within those communities can be taken and acted upon directly. It also means that the co-operatives of all forms need to be defended, especially given the nature of a police force that is hostile, and infiltrated by fascists. The co-operatives, the trades unions, and the community organisations, therefore, need to develop their own defence squads, and forms of community policing. The existing state will be replaced not by a government disbanding it from above, but by the workers themselves making its role redundant, by developing from the ground up, their own superior state organs.  Having done so, they will be in a position to disarm and break up the existing state.

Most immediately, Greece is faced with a financial crisis. Money is fleeing the Greek banks, and the ECB is threatening to cause those banks to collapse. The response of Syriza should be “Go ahead punk, make my day.” Commentators have allowed themselves to be drawn in by a weird form of commodity fetishism, whereby they give money and money tokens a status they do not deserve. It is not money, be it in the form of paper notes, electronic entries in bank accounts, or even gold coins that creates wealth, but capital. If all the money in all the bank accounts in all the world disappeared in a puff of smoke tomorrow, it would make not a scrap of difference to the ability of societies to continue producing goods and services, and making profits and wealth in the process of doing so. The only hindrance that such an event would have would be in creating difficulties in realising the exchanges of commodities within society. In a communist society, as Marx sets out in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, for example, all that is required is a paper certificate detailing how much labour-time has been performed, and so how much value in the form of commodities the owner of the note is entitled to receive.

If the ECB pulls the plug on the Greek banks, the real losers will be the owners of the shares and bonds in those banks, i.e. money lending capitalists in Greece, and across Europe. Syriza should simply allow those banks to go bust, and allow the money lending capitalists to lose the fictitious capital they have invested in them. Its what should have happened with Northern Rock, the Irish banks and so on. Syriza should then encourage and facilitate the workers in those banks to simply take them over.

After all, the bank buildings, the equipment in the banks and so on, i.e. all the things actually required to operate a bank, will continue to exist the day after such an event, as much as the day before. Moreover, the houses that have been put up as collateral on the mortgages that have been issued by the bank will continue to exist. The banks, now under the ownership and control of their workers, will be able to continue to receive the payments of mortgages from borrowers, along with the repayments on loans made to Greek businesses, the day after such an event, as much as they could the day before. What the bank will have freed itself of is all its debt, whether to other banks and financial institutions, for its own borrowing, or to its share and bondholders. They will have simply lost their money, having risked it on a bad investment.

Standing behind those now worker owned and controlled banks will stand the Bank of Greece. If the ECB and EU pull the plug, the Greek government should simply instruct the Greek Central Bank to accept its paper. Greece should then default on its €314 billion of debt, again leaving the international banks and finance houses to pick up the tab for having made a bad investment. Iceland did that a few years ago, and having done so, was able to rapidly begin to rebuild its economy.

As explained recently, Greece could continue to denominate its prices in Euros, whatever the ECB does. If the Greek Central Bank takes the paper of the Greek government, it then simply places, electronically, a deposit, again denominated in Euros, in the account of the government. The government is then able to continue paying wages, electronically, directly into the accounts of its workers, and into the accounts of its suppliers and so on. These deposits again begin to fill the accounts of the now worker owned and controlled commercial banks, rebuilding their bank capital.

The ECB and other EU bodies would undoubtedly try to prevent such an operation, but there is really nothing they can do about it. The commercial banks create money in this way all the time. This means that the Greek government could reverse the austerity measures and finance it by simply printing electronic Euros, and circulating them through the Greek banking system. A reversal of the austerity measures would begin to enable Greece to once again begin to develop policies that led to capital accumulation, and a real solution to its problems.

The existing development of co-operative organisations described at the beginning, together with the development of a worker owned co-operative banking system, would create conditions for investment and expansion, particularly in the development of new worker owned enterprises, that could begin to put Greek workers back to work.

This is the model of transition from capitalist property to socialised capital, as an intermediary stage towards the co-operative commonwealth describes by Marx in Capital.

"The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other...

The two characteristics immanent in the credit system are, on the one hand, to develop the incentive of capitalist production, enrichment through exploitation of the labour of others, to the purest and most colossal form of gambling and swindling, and to reduce more and more the number of the few who exploit the social wealth; on the other hand, to constitute the form of transition to a new mode of production. It is this ambiguous nature, which endows the principal spokesmen of credit from Law to Isaac Péreire with the pleasant character mixture of swindler and prophet."

(Capital III, Chapter 27)

That is a model that can be expanded across Europe, as an alternative to austerity, and using the facilities of the modern capitalist financial and credit system for the advantage of the workers by spreading co-operative production..

Wherever, businesses go bust, they should simply be taken over by their workers, and run as co-operatives. As Engels put it in developing a similar programme for Germany,

My suggestion requires the entry of the cooperatives into the existing production. One should give them land which otherwise would be exploited by capitalist means: as demanded by the Paris Commune, the workers should operate the factories shut down by the factory-owners on a cooperative basis. That is the great difference. And Marx and I never doubted that in the transition to the full communist economy we will have to use the cooperative system as an intermediate stage on a large scale.”

The more co-operatives are established on this basis, and brought into the realm of the co-operative commonwealth, the more they are able to plan their production, and to co-ordinate their activities. This also enables workers to develop an internationalist solution to their problems building co-operative property, and workers self government across Europe, as opposed to the necessarily divisive, reformist and nationalistic programme of state capitalist nationalisation, proposed by left social democrats. 

But, if workers in Greece, and elsewhere are to have a sustainable solution to their immediate financial and economic problems, let alone the continued military/political threats posed to the development of worker owned property by the capitalist state, it will be necessary to extend the co-operative forms, and workers self-government across the whole of Europe, in the context of developing a single European state, and the establishment of a United States of Europe. A starting point for that should be to begin to establish European wide trades unions, and workers parties. Syriza and Podemos, should form an organising centre for the convention of a European wide Congress of Workers organisations to oppose austerity, and to provide a workers alternative, based upon the development of a United States of Europe.

Our United States of Europe, would create common conditions for workers across the continent; it would prevent the current examples of tax dodging and so on, by imposing common taxes across the EU, and isolating the tax havens, and so on. It would undermine the rise of populist nationalism, by proposing a rooting out of the state bureaucracy, and the introduction of consistent democracy. By establishing a single fiscal regime, it would further undermine that nationalist populism, by paying all benefits out of a single EU budget. It would draw up a program for investment across Europe, to put workers back to work, particularly by modernising the economies of those regions that have been left behind, and damaged by the imposition of austerity.

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