Monday, 6 July 2015

61-39, Syriza Bursts The Dam

What Syriza and the Greek workers have sown, over the last five months, the European Labour Movement should now reap. Syriza did not promise a socialist revolution in Greece. They simply proposed what any traditional social-democratic party should have been proposing, over the last few years, which is to oppose the stupid policy of austerity that was being imposed upon economies, and which has wreaked such havoc in destroying real wealth, real productive-capital, and the potential for profits and growth. That Syriza's simple, social-democratic agenda has been presented as something any more radical than that is simply an illustration of the extent to which appearance and reality has got out of whack. Social-democratic parties, across Europe, in the last three decades, have themselves become captive to conservative ideas, which is why those parties core base has declined, why they have fragmented, why in the most acute conditions, such as Greece, those social-democratic parties, like PASOK, have been destroyed, and new social-democratic parties emerged to replace them. It is why nationalist parties that adopt a social democratic verbiage, like the SNP, have eclipsed the traditional social-democratic parties, it is why, for example, when the institutional and organisational lid is lifted, a candidate like Jeremy Corbyn can attract large amounts of support.

The paucity of political analysis on the left is illustrated by this comment from Michael Roberts.

“... the majority ‘no vote’ is a huge defeat for the Troika and big capital in Europe...”

The reality is that the large “No” vote is an indication of real material changes that have been taking place in economies and society at a subterranean level, changes which have begun to undermine the power of money-lending capital that has grown over the last 30 years, and once more to swing back in favour of big industrial capital. The Troika, and the various conservative parties across Europe, have not acted as the representatives of “big” capital, as Michael suggests, but as the representative of that section of society they have always represented – the financial and landed oligarchy, whose power comes from vast amounts of fictitious wealth, from the small capitalists, who represent the remnants of the monopoly of private capital, that Marx describes as representing a fetter that must be burst asunder, and of the backward sections of the middle and working-class still enthralled by nationalistic pride.

The “No” vote is not a “huge defeat” for big industrial capital, but a huge victory. It does represent a huge defeat for money-lending capital, and its conservative political representatives, but they are the enemies of big industrial capital, and as Engels points out, in his later Prefaces to The Condition of the Working Class in England, they have been from the last part of the 19th century, from the time when bourgeois liberal democracy was replaced by bourgeois social democracy, from the time when big industrial capital took the form of socialised capital, with the development of the limited liability, joint stock company, and co-operative, and when the functioning capitalists in these enterprises, the professional day to day managers, themselves increasingly became drawn from the ranks of the working-class, as public education was extended.

Objectively, the interests of this big industrial capital are antagonistic to the interests of money-lending capital, and the personification of that antagonism, as Marx describes, in Capital III, is represented by the professional managers on the one hand, paid a wage like every other worker, and the shareholders and bondholders on the other, whose manifestation is the imposition of tiers of Directors, above the professional day to day managers, to monitor their activities on behalf of the shareholders and bondholders who have lent money-capital to the company.

It is the interests of the latter, and above all the interest of maintaining the hugely inflated prices of their fictitious capital that became more dominant over the last 30 years, as against the interests of big industrial capital. As Engels describes, it is the fact that the representatives of the latter require the social weight of the working-class, and after workers get the vote, their electoral weight that defines social-democracy. It is what led to the establishment of welfare states in the 20th century, but likewise, it was the ending of the long wave boom in the mid 1970's that caused a crisis for that social democracy, and led to the increasing influence of conservative ideas, as the money-lending capitalists became more powerful, and fictitious wealth exploded.

Just as conservative parties became hostage to social-democratic ideas, in the 1950's and 60's, so now social-democratic parties became hostage to conservative ideas, witnessed in the steady rightward drift of all those parties across Europe. But, that in itself represents a contradiction. Capitalism is ultimately driven by profits. As Marx sets out, merchant-capital and money lending capital are antediluvian forms of capital, that are antagonistic to industrial capitalism. So long as the former are dominant, Marx says, the latter cannot develop. Moreover, wherever the former are dominant, conservative and reactionary ideas are also prevalent, which is one reason that industrial capitalism cannot then develop. But, merchant capital, as capital, shares in the profit created by productive-capital, whilst money-lending, or interest-bearing capital (in the form of shares, bonds and so on), sucks surplus value out of productive-capital in the form of interest (dividends, bond interest). Capitalist landed property, which itself is historically tied, by family connections, to the financial oligarchy, likewise sucks surplus value out of productive-capital, in the shape of rent.

Ultimately then, capitalism depends upon real productive-capital accumulating, and increasing amounts of surplus value to be created by it. But, the form of productive-capital, under modern capitalism, is that of socialised capital, of the limited liability, joint stock company, not of the private capitalist property of the early 19th century, and certainly not of the small private capitalist property. As Marx describes in Capital III, the private capitalists who had expropriated the direct producers, and even smaller capitalists, themselves become expropriated by this giant socialised capital, that stands increasingly in opposition to it.

Social democracy and conservatism are the political reflection of this division, with the workers and big industrial capital on the one side, and the money lending capitalists, landed property, and private capitalist property on the other. Two great class camps confronting each other across the social divide. Without big industrial capital, there is no production of surplus value, and the production of that surplus value, increasingly depends upon social democracy, so that the modern capitalist state is founded upon social democracy. The modern capitalist state is a bourgeois social democracy, just as the capitalist state of the early 19th century was a bourgeois liberal democracy.

But, the state is not the same as the government. As Lenin describes, the Tsarist state in Russia was a capitalist state, it was driven by the objective needs of capital, but the political regime was feudal. The state in Chile was a capitalist state, but Allende's government was proletarian. Different laws govern the election of governments and nature of the political regime, to those which determine the class nature of the state, and for periods the two things can conflict. It is not at all surprising then that the political regime can at times represent class fractions that are based upon reactionary forms of property rather than upon those fractions that are based upon the progressive forms of property. The relation between economics and politics, between material conditions and ideas is not a mechanical one.

Syriza's victory is a reflection of changed material conditions. It means the dam of conservative and nationalist ideas that stood in the way of progress has been breached at its weakest point. It is now up to workers and the organised labour movement to push through that breach, and create the flood that has been held back for so long. The response of all those social-democratic politicians across Europe, that have been in thrall to conservative ideology, will increasingly be exposed for what it is. They will be swept away in the flood, just as those politicians have been swept away in Greece, and are in the process of being swept away in Spain, and elsewhere.

Syriza's victory has highlighted the contradictions referred to above, and the contradiction at the heart of the EU itself. The EU from the beginning, like all modern capitalist states, was established as a bourgeois social democracy, and yet its political regime has itself been captured by conservative politicians. That contradiction resides behind the political crisis that the EU has faced, and which has been acute since 2010. Greece exploded that contradiction of a state that was not a state, a single market that was not a single market, a monetary union that was not a monetary union, a central bank that was not a central bank, because none of these things had a single state and polity standing behind them.

It is no surprise that Euroseptic Tories, UKIPPERS and nationalists across Europe have welcomed the No vote in Greece. They see it as reflecting the inevitable break up of Europe, and a return to the conservative nationalism they represent. The ball is in the court of European social democracy, either it can confront all of those contradictions it has allowed to develop over the last 30 years, and resolve them, as it should have done long ago, or else, those contradictions will destroy the EU, and the conservative nationalists will triumph.

Syriza and and the Greek workers have done the heavy lifting. They have ploughed the fields, and scattered the seed. They are reaping the benefits of what they have sowed, but for the harvest not to be wasted, it is now up to social democracy, and the European working class to take over the burden of the work.

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