Sunday, 1 March 2015

Syriza and Brest-Litovsk - Part 1 of 3

A week ago, I made the point that Syriza was facing a Brest-Litovsk moment in relation to its negotiations with the Eurozone leaders. Its an analogy, which, in the following days, has been used by others. In a reply to some of those, within Syriza and without, who have also made the comparison, with the situation the Bolsheviks faced at Brest-Litovsk, Syriza MP Stathis Kouvelakis has written: “Presenting a defeat as ‘success’ is perhaps much worse than the defeat... If the treaty of Brest-Litovsk... had been declared a ‘victory’, there is no doubt that would have led to the defeat of the October Revolution”. In that he is correct, but there are other arguments put forward by Kouvelakis and others, like Costas Lapavistas, that seem to fall into the same kind of trap that the Left has often suffered from in the past.

It is unfortunately the case that a great deal of socialism, over the last 100 years, or more, has been infected by nationalism, and statism. The statism leads to elitism, and the kind of view that, if only a revolutionary party can have hold of the state apparatus, everything is possible. Its not just socialists that have become deluded by this view. 

Currently, the bourgeoisie and their representatives, for example, have convinced themselves that central planners, sitting in a country's central bank, can dictate interest rates, whereas, in fact, whatever official interest rates might be set, by the central bank, whatever the central bank might do in relation to printing money, interest rates are set in the market, as Marx demonstrated, as a consequence of the struggle between money-lending capitalists, and productive-capitalists, which determines the demand and supply for loanable money-capital. 

The bourgeoisie need to believe that central bankers can dictate the price of money, because their whole strategy currently depends upon a continuation of low interest rates, to keep the array of massively inflated asset price bubbles from bursting. The idea that the Left has often seemed to believe, that with control of the state, and a determined revolutionary leadership, anything is possible, irrespective of material conditions, is equally deluded, and likely to lead to disaster. It is an approach that Kouvelakis is guilty of, in the article cited above.

The nationalism within the socialist movement was witnessed in the Second International, which, as Lenin and Trotsky pointed out, was really just a federation of national parties, which operated on the basis of diplomatic relations between each other, so that each party kept out of the affairs, and any criticism of the strategy and policies, of other national parties. The collapse of the International in 1914, was an indication of that weakness.

The adoption of the theory of “Socialism in One Country” by Stalin, in the 1920's, followed in that tradition, and meant that, firstly, all of the other national Stalinist parties' policies were subordinated to that objective, and secondly the policy of each national communist party was designed on the basis, not of an international working-class struggle for socialism, and the necessity for any socialist revolution, immediately, to be spread on a wide basis, to prevent it being isolated, but, on a similar basis, that socialism could be built separately within each nation state – the so called national roads to socialism. 

Given the number of ex members of the Greek Stalinist Party that now make up Syriza, its perhaps not surprising that this kind of approach is then reflected in some of the criticism of the deal, still less that it forms the basis of criticism by the KKE. But, that nationalist approach has not been confined to the Stalinists. It has infected other sections of the Left too. For example, in the 1970's, in Britain, most of the Left outside the Communist Party and its fellow travellers, had always held a position of neutrality, in relation to the question of Britain's membership of the Common Market. The essential position was that, as Marxists, we are in favour of a socialist not a capitalist solution to workers' problems, and from that perspective, whether Britain was in or out of the Common Market, the struggle would continue for such a solution. In fact, from the perspective of the need for any socialist solution to be an international solution, extending across Europe, arguing for a separation of Britain from Europe, as a precondition for any solution, was not only a distraction, but was reactionary, and pointing workers away from the direction in which they needed to travel.

But, when the campaign over the Common Market referendum took place, in 1975, most of the left collapsed from that position, much as the national parties of the Second International had collapsed in 1914. The policies they put forward instead wreaked of nationalism, putting forward the idea that British workers problems somehow flowed from the Common Market rather than from capitalism, and most immediately British capitalism, and the British capitalist state. It suggested that in some way British capital, and the British capitalist state were preferable to European capital. That same approach was adopted by No2EU, including those elements of it that claimed to be Trotskyists, and so opponents of Stalinist policies based on national socialism.

There is a strong smack of those politics in the approach of many of those that comprise the “left” critics of the Syriza leadership. It mingles with that approach adopted by others on the Left, such as the SWP, which views politics not through the lens of class struggle, but instead through the lens of “anti-imperialism”. Throughout, there have been those, such as Costas Lapavistas, who have argued that any solution for Greece should be based on Greece leaving the Euro. There is a strong impression given by many, like the SWP, who have seen the EU itself only in terms of a large imperialist bloc that should be opposed, and even broken up.  It is a political world view based not on a struggle for socialism, but on an “anti-imperialist” struggle, which leads them to ally with all kinds of reactionary agendas in order to follow that pursuit.  That approach is manifest in a view that any obstacle to Syriza's agenda, should be seen as an opportunity to argue that it could only be implemented by first leaving the Euro, and possibly even the EU. In fact, as with No2EU, there is a great deal of overlap between the politics of this approach, and the politics of UKIP, even though the motivation of those on the Left is diametrically opposed to the motivation of those like UKIP.  This is no different to the situation in the past, described by Trotsky, whereby the underlying nationalism, in the national socialist approach of Stalinism, led to an overlap with the national socialist approach of the Nazis.

In the article linked to above, Kouvelakis, writes,

“But then why not turn that reasoning the other way around, saying ‘since I realise the two objectives are incompatible, I choose to stick to the break with austerity, since essentially that is the reason why Greeks voted for a party of the radical Left’? That is, to opt for the rupture and not ‘stability’ within the existing framework. We might at least think that this choice is more befitting of a radical Left party that sets ‘socialism’ as its ‘strategic goal’ (even if that clearly wasn’t the agenda on which it won the elections).”

All of the elements discussed above can be found in this short statement. Let's take them as they come.

(1) “ I choose to stick to the break with austerity.”

Here we have the classic statement of the statist who believes that everything is possible if only you have control of the state apparatus. Later in his article he writes,

“We should also note that, despite the disgust that Europeanism addicts like Balibar and Mezzadra feel upon any mention of ‘the national’, the very political successes to which they refer, from Syriza to Podemos, not only took place within a national context – changing the relations of force precisely insofar as they allow radical Left political movements to access the nation state’s levers of power – but were also, in part, only possible thanks to these parties’ insistence on national sovereignty...” 

There are other problems with this formulation, which confuses the condition whereby a party may obtain governmental office, as opposed to winning state power. The problem with the slogan “Labour Take The Power”, or reformist conceptions such as those proposed by Militant in the past, for a Labour Government to effectively legislate socialism into being, was precisely the confusion between these two different things of winning governmental office and taking state power. The latter requires the existing capitalist state machine to have been smashed, and replaced by a workers' state, the former does not, which is why anyone who fails to distinguish between the two, and attempts to simply legislate socialism into being, will quickly find that the state machine sweeps them away, as happened with Allende.

That is why all that can be achieved by obtaining governmental office are bourgeois social-democratic reforms compatible with the needs of big industrial capital, that are, in fact frequently required by that fraction of capital to bring about modernisation and accumulation – as Attlee's Government did in 1945, for example – and against the interests of fictitious capital, represented by conservative political forces.

Its in this vein, that Syriza's purely social-democratic agenda should be seen as meeting the needs of big industrial capital, which requires the mountain of debt across the globe to be written down, as against the interests of money-lending capital, whose interests are to inflate it further, in an attempt to expand that fictitious wealth, so as to suck even more interest out of produced surplus value, but more immediately to provide a continuation of the process of creating huge paper capital gains, for the owners of that paper. In fact, its in this that the major distinction should be noted, as Marx puts it,

“As regards the fall in the purely nominal capital, State bonds, shares etc.—in so far as it does not lead to the bankruptcy of the state or of the share company, or to the complete stoppage of reproduction through undermining the credit of the industrial capitalists who hold such securities—it amounts only to the transfer of wealth from one hand to another and will, on the whole, act favourably upon reproduction, since the parvenus into whose hands these stocks or shares fall cheaply, are mostly more enterprising than their former owners.” (Theories Of Surplus Value, Part 2, p 496)

But, in any event, the option is not stay in the Eurozone and have to implement austerity, or leave the Eurozone and abandon austerity! In fact, if Greece leaves the Euro, and reintroduces the Drachma, the value of that currency would collapse, inflation in Greece would go through the roof, imposing far greater austerity on Greek workers than they have faced so far, and currently face within the Eurozone!

Its true that Greece, as with other peripheral economies, have had policies of austerity imposed upon them, that have been counter-productive and highly damaging, but that is only true within the context of what was possible with Greece inside the EU, and inside the Eurozone. In other words, an alternative to austerity was possible for Greece and other peripheral economies inside the Eurozone, on the basis of a transfer of capital from elsewhere within the zone. So long as Greece and other peripheral economies remain within the Eurozone, it is possible to argue for an end to austerity, and for policies to mobilise the capital resources of the entire zone, in a way that the US has done, for example. 

But, the whole problem for Greece, is that, on its own, it does not have such capital resources! Outside the Eurozone, austerity would go from being an ideological policy decision, voluntarily imposed by conservative governments, in the interests of fictitious capital, and against the interests of industrial capital, to being a policy necessity driven by economic reality, i.e. inadequate capital resources, an uncompetitive economy, and a consequent inability to produce sufficient surplus value to accumulate capital, and sustain the revenues of a large unproductive sector. Moreover, the framing of analysis in essentially nationalistic terms, whereby an “anti-imperialist” rather than class struggle is taking place, where Greece is like some oppressed colony, is clearly false. Britain, for example, is not in such a position, and yet the conservative government is imposing the same kind of damaging policy of austerity on its economy, in the interests of money-lending capital.

Forward To Part 2

1 comment:

Jacob Richter said...

I beg to disagree:

(My own blog exceeds the character limit for comments)