Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Syriza and Brest-Litovsk - Part 3 of 3

Kouvelakis is quite right to criticise Syriza for describing its climb down as a victory, when it was quite clearly a defeat, a compromise forced on them due to weakness, and Syriza have made other mistakes, for example, entering a coalition with the Independent Greeks, who had already committed to supporting the Government's anti-austerity policies. He is quite right to contrast Syriza's approach of describing a defeat as a victory with the Bolshevik's approach at Brest-Litovsk. Having said that, its a bit harsh to compare, as some have done, Syriza's capitulation with the fact that the Bolshevik's spent some considerable time discussing their position within the party and soviets, before they eventually made the concessions, because Syriza was faced with a requirement to reach an agreement within a matter of just a couple of days.

Syriza can also be criticised, for the fact that they have not pursued any of the policies that even mainstream bourgeois economists have proposed, which I have previously suggested, as a means of defying the ECB and EU leaders, so as to pursue an anti-austerity agenda, whilst remaining inside the Eurozone. For example, I have previously suggested that they could simply issue government paper, to be bought by the Greek Central Bank, which would then create electronic Euros, by making an electronic deposit in the government's account, in return for this collateral. That approach has also been put forward by Wolfgang Munchau, in the FT.

Yet, even here, there is a possible justification for Syriza holding back from such action. To do so now, would mean an immediate confrontation with the ECB and Eurozone. If Greece implemented such a policy, it would mean that government's in Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal would come under intense pressure, from their workers, to abandon austerity and follow suit. Under those conditions, it is inevitable that the ECB and Eurozone would respond vigorously to the measures by Greece, in ways that must be unforeseeable, because its not clear, as Munchau himself states, exactly what they could do to prevent it.

In that case, attempting to ensure that you have created the best possible conditions before engaging on such a confrontation, makes sense. The idea that increased support can only be garnered by always launching into confrontation, with the expectation that such action will provoke a mobilisation of the masses is naïve. Marx advised the Paris workers not to launch into rebellion in 1870, because he considered that they were not yet ready, that the conditions were not right; Lenin attempted to hold back the workers in July 1917, for similar reasons; and Trotsky in the early 1920's on a number of occasions criticised the German Communist Party for repeatedly calling for General Strikes and other mobilisations without the necessary conditions for their success, or the necessary organisation having been undertaken.

It would be sensible to try to put in place a series of measures such as those I have proposed previously, for example, transferring as much as possible of the Greek economy on to the use of electronic payments so as to reduce the requirement for actual notes and coins; it would make sense for Syriza to use the intervening period to foster non-fiscal measures, for example making clear its support for workers taking over bankrupt firms and converting them into co-operatives, supporting the welding together of existing co-operatives into a co-operative federation, and if possible the building of links with co-operative organisations across Europe; the encouragement of links between the co-operatives and trades unions, possibly the using the model developed by the US Steelworkers Union and Mondragon, as an example; the encouragement of the building of community organisations, so as to build alternative organs of workers power, and self-defence and so on.

“It costs nothing, for example, to dissolve the detested riot squad DELTA, created after the unrest of 2008. The current plan is to “merge it” with the more established, less fascist infiltrated riot squads of the ordinary police. I would also expect the beefed up tax authorities to go in hard on a few symbolic members of the so called oligarchy.

Success in such endeavours would barely register at the ECB, yet be seen as massive delivery on promises by the 42 per cent of voters who voted left on 25 January."

But, given the different tempos referred to in my previous posts, in relation to Brest-Litovsk, the intervening period gives time, if used wisely, to build a greater degree of international support, and opposition to austerity. As I suggested, it provides the opportunity for Syriza and Podemos to act as an organising centre for a European convention of workers organisations to oppose austerity, a movement that should seek to draw in not just European trades unions, and co-operatives, but also members of the existing large social-democratic parties, so as to put pressure on the leaders of those parties from their rank and file, and from the mass of the working-class. Can such be guaranteed to work? Absolutely not, but what can be guaranteed is that a refusal to try build such a movement, will lead to demoralisation of the masses, and a rise of the fascists.

Those who believe that having fought an election campaign, on a social-democratic agenda, and won a parliamentary majority, Syriza should have walked away and refused to take office, because they could not implement a revolutionary programme, essentially adopt an equally sectarian stance, that reduces them to carping from the sidelines.  It would mean that Marxists could never, for example, put themselves forward for trade union positions, because, by definition, trade union activity can only ever, at best, result in a slight amelioration of the workers condition.  Workers would quite rightly not be able to understand such an aloof attitude by Marxists.

In discussing the situation in Mexico, whereby the Cardenas regime had nationalised various industries, and faced with imperialist opposition, was turning to workers for support, including inviting them to take part in workers management of those nationalised industries Trotsky dealt with this issue.  On the one hand, he noted that it is a deception for Marxists to advocate nationalisation by the capitalist state, as opposed to a workers overthrow of capitalist property relations.  Workers Control, is also a deception he noted, outside a revolutionary situation, because outside that condition, whereby the workers are holding a gun to the head of capitalism at a state level, there is no reason for the bourgeoisie to concede any real workers control, so it could only ever be a means of incorporating the workers and their organisations.

On the other hand, Trotsky notes, in a situation where the capitalist state has already nationalised industries, and where, for its own reasons, it is offering a form of workers control, the workers would not understand if Marxists demanded they just walk away from this offer.  Trotsky is at pains to describe why Marxists do not demand nationalisation by the capitalist state, and why Workers Control as a demand is a fraud, but he goes on,

"One can of course evade the question by citing the fact that unless the proletariat takes possession of the power, participation by the trade unions in the management of the enterprises of state capitalism cannot give socialist results. However, such a negative policy from the revolutionary wing would not be understood by the masses and would strengthen the opportunist positions. For Marxists it is not a question of building socialism with the hands of the bourgeoisie, but of utilizing the situations that present themselves within state capitalism and advancing the revolutionary movement of the workers."

(Trotsky - Nationalised Industry and Workers Management)

As Paul Mason noted,

“Many people who voted for Syriza are privately up in arms over the scale of the retreat – but they blame Germany first, Europe second and their own government a long, long third. They will, for now, swallow evisceration of their party’s programme on two conditions: one, that the government goes on delivering on non-fiscal policies.”

Paul goes on to say that the Syriza leaders underestimated the support they would get from other governments. That may or may not be correct, but its not clear to me why they would expect support from the German government, or from a British government led by conservatives who are themselves carrying out policies of austerity on behalf of money-lending capital against the interests of big industrial capital.

In fact, what we are seeing in Greece is a political proxy war between these two big class fractions of capital – fictitious capital/money-lending capital, whose power is entrenched in the banks and financial institutions, but is based upon the ownership of shares, bonds and other financial assets, on the one hand, and real productive-capital on the other. It is similar to the situation described by Marx in Capital Vol. III, in relation to the 1844 Bank Act, which caused a credit crunch and financial crisis in 1847 and 1857, which in turn caused a severe economic crisis, until the Act was suspended. Marx describes this situation where the conservative representatives of this fictitious capital determine policy on the basis of a willingness to see real productive-capital destroyed, solely to maintain the value of this paper, fictitious capital. 

“Talk about centralisation! The credit system, which has its focus in the so-called national banks and the big money-lenders and usurers surrounding them, constitutes enormous centralisation, and gives to this class of parasites the fabulous power, not only to periodically despoil industrial capitalists, but also to interfere in actual production in a most dangerous manner — and this gang knows nothing about production and has nothing to do with it. The Acts of 1844 and 1845 are proof of the growing power of these bandits, who are augmented by financiers and stock-jobbers.”

(Capital III, Chapter 33)

The struggle taking place in Greece is not a struggle between capitalism and socialism, but, in reality only a struggle between the interests of two different fractions of capital.  It is a struggle between industrial capital and its representatives, the functioning capitalists, on the one side (social democracy), and fictitious capital and its representatives, the bankers, the share and bondholders and their appointees on the Boards of Directors (conservatism), on the other.  The only sense in which this is a struggle between socialism and capitalism is that the social democracy rests upon that socialised capital described by Marx in Capital III, in the large joint stock companies, and co-operatives, which Marx describes as the transitional forms of property to the associated mode of production.  It, therefore represents progress, whereas conservatism rests on all of those more primitive forms of capital, like interest-bearing capital, and so represents reaction.  It is a class struggle, being fought out between these two class fractions representing two antagonistic forms of capitalist property, one the harbinger of the future, the other a reflection of the past.

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