Sunday, 22 February 2015

Germany Is Promoting Fascism in Greece and A Breakup of the EU

Germany's hard line stance, over Greece's debt renegotiations, is reminiscent of the mistakes made by France, in 1918, in relation to its impositions, via the Versailles Treaty, on Germany. Germany's position is undermining Greek social democracy, and thereby forcing the country down the only other road open to it, which is the adoption of an ever more nationalistic response, in the form of the fascists of Golden Dawn. Not only will that be a disaster for Greece, but, by fanning the flames of ultra-nationalism, that are already licking at the heels of a number of European countries – UKIP in Britain, FN in France, Five Star in Italy, not to mention all of the similar parties that have sprung up in the Nordic countries, in the Netherlands, as well as across Central and Eastern Europe, and the Baltic states, some of which openly proclaim, rather than deny, their Nazi heritage, and even the rise of the AfD in Germany itself – Germany's actions are creating the conditions for the break up of the EU itself.

In September 1938, Trotsky wrote, in “Phrases and Reality”

"Fascism is a form of despair in the petit-bourgeois masses, who carry away with them over the precipice a part of the proletariat as well. Despair as is known, takes hold when all roads of salvation are cut off. The triple bankruptcy of democracy, Social Democracy and the Comintern was the prerequisite for fascism. All three have tied their fate to the fate of imperialism. All three bring nothing to the masses but despair and by this assure the triumph of fascism." (Writings 1938-9, p 19)

He continues,

"The democracies of the Versailles Entente helped the victory of Hitler by their vile oppression of defeated Germany. Now the lackeys of democratic imperialism of the Second and Third Internationals are helping with all their might the further strengthening of Hitler’s regime. Really, what would a military bloc of imperialist democracies against Hitler mean? A new edition of the Versailles chains, even more heavy, bloody and intolerable. Naturally, not a single German worker wants this. To throw off Hitler by revolution is one thing; to strangle Germany by an imperialist war is quite another. The howling of the “pacifist” jackals of democratic imperialism is therefore the best accompaniment to Hitler’s speeches. “You see,” he says to the German people, “even socialists and Communists of all enemy countries support their army and their diplomacy; if you will not rally around me, your leader, you are threatened with doom!” Stalin, the lackey of democratic imperialism, and all the lackeys of Stalin – Jouhaux, Toledano, and Company – are the best aides in deceiving, lulling, and intimidating the German workers." (p 21) 

In 1918, the representatives of social-democracy, of big industrial capital, in the shape of the US, and of Keynes, opposed the draconian conditions that France was imposing on Germany, with the support of Britain. They noted, as Trotsky did later, that imposing such austerity on Germany, would prevent its economic development, and build up nationalistic sentiments. They were right, it did, and led to the victory of fascism. The notion that all ills are the fault of some “other” is one that is easily adopted, even when that is not the case. When that “other” actually is acting, from the outside, to prevent the adoption of perceived solutions, or to impose what are seen to be irrational and punitive measures, it is no wonder that this breeds nationalistic sentiment and hostility.

But, Germany's actions, which seem to have even provoked some opposition from other EU leaders, threaten a much wider reactionary response than just a rise of fascism in Greece. This same sentiment, about kicking back against external controls, is what also stands behind the reactionary nationalism of Tory euroseptics, as well as behind UKIP, and the other ultra nationalist parties. The Tories seek renegotiations to undermine the very basis of the EU, by breaking up any kind of uniform rules and regulations, across Europe, in favour of clawing back powers from Europe, which will lead to an increasing nationalistic race to the bottom, in relation to conditions and rights. The logical conclusion of that approach is given by UKIP, which points out that, in relation to many measures, that a nation state would want to control, such as immigration controls, that would only be possible outside the EU. This same nationalistic argument is being made by conservative and reactionary parties across Europe, and Germany's position is providing huge amounts of fuel to it.

The question here is, what should Syriza's response be, and what should be the response of the left, across Europe? Before the election, in Greece, I argued that Syriza should refuse to take office unless it had a majority - Why Syriza Cannot Buckle. As with Labour in Britain - The SNP's Cleft Stick - Syriza has to refuse to take part in any coalition - Syriza Should Govern Alone. If other parties wish to provide support, by some form of “confidence and supply”, that is up to them, but no deals should be done with such parties; no concessions whatsoever should be given to them. If they bring down the government, and thereby force new elections, which bring to power conservative or reactionary parties, like the Tories, that is a consequence these small parties, like the SNP or the Greens, must account for to their supporters.

Having won a large plurality of seats, in the election – just one short of an outright majority – I believe it was right for Syriza to form a government, though wrong to have formed a coalition with the Independent Greeks. It was right, because this was not a matter of a revolutionary socialist party attempting to take state power. Syriza is nothing more than a bourgeois social-democratic party, much the same as the US Democrats, or the Labour Party in Britain, and before it the British Liberal Party. Its ideas remain firmly within that mould, of making capitalism work more efficiently, rather than any serious concept of replacing capitalism with socialism. To suggest that having won an election by such a large majority, Syriza should not then have formed the government, is like suggesting that the US Democrats should not take office, or that Labour should not have taken office in 1945, 1964, 1974 and so on. To do so, would not have been understood by the millions of workers that voted for them, and who have not yet themselves gone beyond this bourgeois, reformist, social-democratic consciousness. It would have been to disorient them, and demoralise them, opening the door to reaction.

But, having taken office, such a government has to make clear that, in taking office, it has not taken power! Certainly Marxists, within that party, have to make clear that that is the case. They have to make clear that what they can do, is thereby heavily circumscribed. In fact, this is no different to the position a left-wing shop steward is in, having been elected. That is it is necessary to ensure that you make clear to your members that anything that you can achieve is dependent upon their strength, solidarity, and the general conditions of class struggle. The more intense the struggle, the more the outcome depends not just upon those factors, but also upon the extent to which wider, more powerful forces can be brought in to provide support.

Syriza has found itself in a “Brest-Litovsk” moment, and it must be careful not to be blown off course, by those same ultra-left voices, against which Lenin had to argue, in that case, and which he deals with in “Left-Wing Communism”.

In 1918, Germany sought to take advantage of Russia's desire to get out of the War, after the Revolution, by seizing land from Russia. Russia conceded the land to Germany at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In fact, as Lenin points outs, the treaty itself was a bit of a sham, because had Russia not signed, Germany was powerful enough to have simply seized land, and possibly rolled over much of Russia anyway, and despite the treaty, Germany, in any case helped itself to additional land, by military seizure later.

The point was that the treaty bought time for the Bolsheviks, and it was a compromise that was forced upon them due to their weakness, rather like the compromises that shop stewards have to make all the time, due to similar weakness. In fact, Lenin frames his argument against the ultra-left demand for “no compromises” in precisely these terms.

“However, proletarians schooled in numerous strikes (to take only this manifestation of the class struggle) usually assimilate in admirable fashion the very profound truth (philosophical, historical, political and psychological) expounded by Engels. Every proletarian has been through strikes and has experienced “compromises” with the hated oppressors and exploiters, when the workers have had to return to work either without having achieved anything or else agreeing to only a partial satisfaction of their demands. Every proletarian—as a result of the conditions of the mass struggle and the acute intensification of class antagonisms he lives among—sees the difference between a compromise enforced by objective conditions (such as lack of strike funds, no outside support, starvation and exhaustion)—a compromise which in no way minimises the revolutionary devotion and readiness to carry on the struggle on the part of the workers who have agreed to such a compromise—and, on the other hand, a compromise by traitors who try to ascribe to objective causes their self-interest (strike-breakers also enter into “compromises”!), their cowardice, desire to toady to the capitalists, and readiness to yield to intimidation, sometimes to persuasion, sometimes to sops, and sometimes to flattery from the capitalists. (The history of the British labour movement provides a very large number of instances of such treacherous compromises by British trade union leaders, but, in one form or another, almost all workers in all countries have witnessed the same sort of thing.)” 

Last Friday's Eurozone negotiations represent a similar Brest-Litovsk moment for Syriza, because they had been backed into a corner. One of the arguments of the ultra left's over Brest-Litovsk was that the Bolshevik's should have refused to compromise with Germany, and thereby encouraged workers in Germany, and the rest of Europe, to flock to their support. In short, they should have placed the fate of the revolution in a hope that European workers would have an overnight epiphany and become revolutionaries. The Left often makes this mistake, as Lenin sets out, that firstly it takes its own level of consciousness, and transplants it on to the working-class, which is still at a much lower level of political development, and also it fails to take account of different historical tempos.

So, for example, it might have been the case that all of the events, occurring at the time, would have their impact on changing the consciousness of European workers, but such a process would have required years, or at least many months, to complete. Meanwhile, the German armies were about to over run them in a matter of only days!

The question here, for Syriza, is what do they do with the four months of breathing space that has been granted to them? They have the potential during that time to do what I suggested last week, that is they could use this time to try to mobilise workers across Europe against the German government, and other conservative forces. They should, with Podemos, act as an organising centre for a European convention of workers organisations to oppose austerity, and to draw up a programme of co-ordinated investment across Europe. They should use the time, to bring about changes inside Greece, which strengthen the position of Greek workers, and act as an example, for workers across the rest of Europe. They should encourage workers, wherever firms go bust, to occupy them and to establish worker owned co-operatives. They should seek to replace the function of notes and coins, within the Greek economy, with electronic transfer of funds, so that, as suggested, if the ECB cuts off support, Greece can operate on the basis of the circulation of electronic Euros, through its financial system, created on the basis of the needs of the Greek economy for currency, not on the needs of financial capital to defend fictitious capital at the expense of the destruction of productive-capital.

The reality is that the measures, required by Germany, cannot possibly be complied with by Greece. Even former Tory Chancellor, Norman Lamont recognised that, on Newsnight on Friday

But, Lamont, who also noted that not only could the debt not be repaid, and that the austerity measures were making the situation, in Greece, worse not better, and that the beneficiaries of the failure of Syriza would be Golden Dawn, uses this to argue that Greece should not have been in the Euro, and that they should leave. In other words, this is exactly the narrative that the nationalists will adopt, and which will lead first to a dismantling of the Eurozone, and then of the EU itself, because, ultimately there can be no single market, without single rules for all, without a single currency and so on. The problem with the EU, and with the Eurozone, is not too much Europe, but not enough.

On that basis, the requirement, for Syriza's policy measures to be ratified by Eurozone chiefs, is not of itself objectionable. If the EU were to have a single fiscal regime, and budget, such oversight would be a necessary requirement. However, it is then a necessary requirement for all member states, not just for some, and the process then requires the concept that this oversight be undertaken by democratically elected politicians via the European Parliament, not by the ministers of individual nation states, or by the bureaucrats of the Commission. It also requires the idea that, within the process of drawing up such a budget, there be adequate fiscal transfers, to compensate for the effects that a single monetary policy has on different regions of Europe. In short, it requires that the EU move to the establishment of a single European state, a United States of Europe.

Unfortunately, Germany's actions are driving Europe in exactly the opposite direction. They are promoting division, and increasing pressures for the EU to split apart. The pundits are claiming that there is opposition to Greece's position from other European states, such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, that have had to impose austerity measures. But, this is not true. There is opposition from the conservative governments of those countries. In the main, the workers in those countries are sympathetic to the plight of the Greek workers, and their demands. What the governments in those countries are afraid of is not that their populations will object to support for Greece, but a response from their own people based upon opposing austerity in the rest of Europe, as well as Greece!

Already, even the German trades unions have put out a statement in support of Greece, and calling for a reassessment of the policy of austerity. As I have written in the past, many bourgeois economists have pointed out that Syriza's economic policy is not at all radical, but only a form of traditional Keynesian stance, similar to that adopted by Obama in the US.  The latest example of that was in the FT last week.

On 15 February, Wolfgang Münchau wrote:

“My advice, to Yanis Varoufakis, would be to ignore the exasperated looks and veiled threats and stand firm. He is a member of the first government in the eurozone with a democratic mandate to stand up to an utterly dysfunctional policy regime that has proved economically illiterate and politically unsustainable. For the eurozone to survive with the current geographic remit, this regime needs to go.”

Munchau argued for the Greek government to basically make an immediate break that would itself free it from the constraints of austerity imposed upon it.  The Greek government, he wrote,

“... should stick with their position not to accept a continuation of the existing financial support programme.” which imposes on them “self-defeating policy targets such as the contractual requirement to run a primary budget surplus of 3 per cent of gross domestic product. For a country with mass unemployment, such a target is insane. It would, of course, be better for this nonsense to stop while Greece remains in the euro zone. But the most important thing is that it has to stop.”

Munchau also proposed a version of the policy of creating electronic money that I have previously put forward.  He proposed that they adopt a kind of parallel currency consisting of government-backed IOUs, which could be physical notes, or maybe just electronic credits, circulating in parallel to the Euro. 

“Once this system is in place, you can default on the official European creditors. What can they do? They cannot eject you from the eurozone. They have no legal means to do so. They cannot kick you out of the EU either”.

Münchau also concludes that Greece should seek to avoid leaving the Eurozone, but he goes on to confirm the point I have made previously that if they fail, or are caused to fail by German intransigence, the consequence is likely to be the coming to power of Golden Dawn.

“The worse-case scenario would be for the Greek government to blink first, and accept defeat... If Syriza were to be co-opted into the policy consensus, the only political party left to oppose these policies would be Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party”.

One German economist, however, Holger Schmieding, of Berenberg Bank, in a recent TV interview, talked about the “loony” policies that Syriza had been elected on, forgetting that a plurality of Greek people had voted for those policies!

He put forward the same argument that the Tea Party put forward, in relation to Obama's policy of bailing out US homebuyers, who were in danger of being thrown out of their homes. That approach, put forward by the Tea Party and Schmeiding, is a policy born out of a seeming desire to punish, rather than to deal with the actual situation. In the US, people were simply walking away from their homes, and it made sense to write off some of the debt. In Greece, it is not the people of the country, or even Syriza, that ran up the debt, but past governments. If the creditors want to chase the politicians who were responsible for that, and to whom they recklessly lent, good luck to them, but there is every reason for Syriza and the people of Greece to simply walk away from it.

Germany's current course, is making that kind of resolution all the more likely.

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