Thursday, 2 February 2017

European Socialists Should Mobilise Behind Hamon

Last weekend, Benoît Hamon, was selected as the French Socialist Party candidate for the Presidential Elections at the end of April, and start of May. Hamon's selection is part of the same processes that led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader, the rise of Bernie Sanders in the US, and Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and the Left Bloc in Portugal. But, that same process has involved a collapse of the political centre. At the same time that there has been this rise of a radical left, therefore, there has also been a rise of the radical right, symbolised by Golden Dawn in Greece, the FN in France, Brexit in Britain, Trump in the US, and a series of right-wing, nationalist parties across Europe.

But such processes are never linear. They involve an ebb and flow of fortunes for the contending forces, and this process also proceeds on the basis of a combined and uneven development. The rise of Syriza, was not only combined with a growth of Golden Dawn, but also of the rise of UKIP and other right-wing forces across Europe. Syriza was in the vanguard, but in conditions that were not conducive to its success. The lack of other radical forces across Europe, to come to its aid, as it faced an onslaught from European conservative forces, almost inevitably meant it would be pushed back. Those conservative forces were hell-bent on inflicting austerity on the EU economy, so as to pay for the transfer of capital to the money-lenders, whose financial system was in a state of collapse.

In Greece, the collapse of the political centre saw Syriza advance, but elsewhere in Europe, it was the right which advanced. In Britain, it was the Tories and UKIP, in France, it was the Front National and so on. After Syriza, Podemos rose in Spain, for almost identical reasons, but as Syriza was pushed back, so that had an inevitable effect on the fortunes of Podemos. The Left Bloc in Portugal took office, and committed itself to opposing austerity, which with the election of Hollande, in France, offered some hope of social-democratic forces, in the EU, coming to the aid of Greece, and other peripheral economies, to reverse the lunatic policies of austerity that were being imposed. But, Hollande did the usual thing of centrist, social-democratic politicians, of talking left, and immediately turning right on their election. 

At the same time, Cameron led a Tory government, as Labour under Brown then Miliband had followed the same course as Pasok, and the PSOE, left behind by the turn of history, as the political centre collapsed. Even Cameron was swept aside by history, as he was first pushed by the radical right of UKIP to call a referendum over EU membership, and then pushed out of office as neither the political solutions that he or the Blair-rights offered were any longer seen as credible. And that, in turn, was then reflected as the Blair-rights themselves were swept away, at least politically, even if they hung on, superficially, to their PLP positions, in the massive Corbynite surge.

Now, Hamon has been elected as French Socialist Party candidate, by a 60:40 majority, similar to that received by Corbyn. For now, Hamon's standing in the polls makes his challenge look daunting, largely because the damage done by Hollande, over the last four years, to the socialist cause, has to be undone. A strong challenge by Hamon is important, not just for French workers, but for all workers across Europe, and also for the fortunes of the left in other social-democratic parties across the continent. That is why it is important that not only French socialists, and the French labour movement mobilise behind Hamon, but that the whole European labour movement mobilises behind his campaign, and the campaign of the French Socialist Party.

The elections take place in two rounds on 23rd April, and 7th May. Only the top two candidates go through to the final round. At the moment, the most likely two candidates to go through are Marine Le Pen of the Front National, and Francois Fillon of the Republican Party. For workers there is no reason to choose between either of these candidates, both are reactionary bourgeois politicians whose programme represents an attack on the working-class. A vote for one as opposed to the other is no different than a choice between death by hanging or death by guillotine. Workers should refuse to choose either. If those are the candidates that go through, socialists should advocate an active abstention, on the basis of refusing to choose the method of their murder.

But, the best way of preventing such a situation is to not allow Le Pen or Fillon into the second round. It is likely that it will be impossible to prevent one or the other going through, because right-wing voters will mobilise behind one or other. But, for the same reason, it is important for the left to ensure that workers are presented with a real choice. The political centre was put off balance by the selection of Francois Fillon as the Republican candidate. It had been expected that Alain Juppe would have been selected as their candidate, with former President Sarkozy, considered the next most likely candidate. Fillon, is described as a Thatcherite, but of concern to the Republicans, much as with the concern of US Republicans, in regard to Trump, is Fillon's apparent closeness to Vladimir Putin. Fillon may also be caught up in a domestic political scandal.

Similarly, the political centre had assumed that with Hollande not standing, the Socialist Party would pick another right-wing candidate, such as former Prime Minister Manuel Valls. But, typical of the collapse of the political centre, and of depasokification, seen elsewhere, the association of these previous politicians with the failed policies of the past, acted as a negative.

The political centre, and its representatives in the French media, having been faced with candidates not of their choosing, have then sought to rally behind a candidate outside the main party structures. The political centre has, therefore, placed its bets on Emmanuel Macron, the former Economy Minister, who is a sort of French Blair-right.

But, as seen elsewhere, including in Britain, those politicians of the political centre, be they Blair-rights, Liberal-Democrats, or the soft social-democratic elements of conservative parties, have had their day. The polices around which they coalesced for the last thirty years, led to the huge asset price bubbles in stock, bond and property markets that, in turn led to the financial crash of 2008, and the European Debt Crisis after 2010. Their attempts to prolong the agony, by protecting the paper wealth of the owners of that fictitious capital, simultaneously required the imposition of austerity to prevent a sharp rise in interest rates, which would have once more burst those asset price bubbles, and the consequence of that has been the imposition of recessions and slow economic growth on European economies, and the inevitable impact of that on global growth itself.

The reason those politicians of the political centre have everywhere been rejected, is because, as across the globe, the printing of money, and manipulation of government bond prices has led to negative yields, it has become obvious that there is no road left to continue such desperate measures, as even the central bankers admit they have no more ammunition left, and that the burden must now be taken up by fiscal policy. It is no wonder that the Blair-right Labour Party failed to get elected, when, in such conditions, it offered only austerity-lite, or that the Liberal-Democrats having presented themselves as the epitome of that political centre were obliterated as a political party.

Even if Macron were to get into the second round, French workers could have little more reason to vote for his failed politics than they have had to vote for those politics in Greece, Spain, Portugal, UK or the US. The only function that Macron could play would be to split the social-democratic vote, thereby ensuring that it will be a run off between Fillon and Le Pen.

But, the same is true in relation to some of the other candidates, whose presence can only split the left vote, and thereby let in the right and extreme right. Hamon in his victory speech made an open appeal to the other parts of the left and to the Greens to join with him. They should respond to that appeal. Jeremy Corbyn was quite right to argue that we believe in remaining in the EU, so as to fight alongside our fellow workers. But, he was also right to say that we cannot thereby simply support staying in the EU uncritically. We have no reason to support the current capitalist, basis of the EU, and still less the current domination of its polity by conservative forces. We want a different kind of Europe. That is also the message that Hamon is sending.

Just because we do not think that the solutions for the problems of Greece (and the same is true of Britain) could be resolved by leaving the EU, or in the case of Greece, even the Eurozone, that does not mean that we think that Greek workers should have to simply accept the idiotic policies of austerity that European conservative politicians, and the ECB inflicted upon them. Similarly, whilst pointing to those conservative policies inflicted on Greece, it does not mean that we see the alternative as being for Greece to leave the Eurozone, or the EU.

Had Greece left the Eurozone, let alone the EU, the impact on Greek workers and on the Greek economy would have been disastrous. A return to the Drachma would have seen a massive depreciation of the currency, which would have represented a massive reduction in the wealth and living standards of Greek workers. It would mean that an hour of their labour became worth only a fraction of what it was previously. In order to retain the same standard of living, Greek workers would then have had to have worked many more hours, and far more intensively.

The nationalistic solutions whether they are put forward by the populist right, or the nationalist left, are no real solution, whether it is Brexit or Lexit, or whether it is the nationalist approach of Le Pen, or of Melonchon, and those in Europe that continue to be influenced by the Stalinist ideas of socialism in one country. The solutions to the problems of workers across Europe can only come from a Europe wide perspective, from the building of a Europe wide workers movement that demands an end to austerity, and the introduction of a programme of fiscal stimulus, and capital investment, as the minimum conditions for restoring economic growth, and thereby putting European workers in a better position to develop and pursue more adequate, longer term, socialistic solutions based upon the development of Europe wide workers ownership and control.

The problems of Greece could not be resolved by Grexit, any more than the problems of Britain can be resolved by Brexit. The problems of Greece required that it have more capital, and given its own limited resources, that capital could only come from outside. If the EU lived up to its own claims of social solidarity, let alone the social-democratic ideals upon which it was originally established after WWII, it would have ensured such a transfer of capital to Greece, to develop modern productive relations whereby Greek workers could produce commodities that were globally competitive, that sufficient resources were put into the education and training of Greek workers to undertake that production, that resources were allocated to developing Greek infrastructure, so as to raise the level of social productivity, and so on. But, that kind of planned response is required across Europe, and it is only social-democratic governments that can implement it.

At the end of this month, Jeremy Corbyn has invited socialist leaders from across Europe to London for discussions. That is a good start. But, the French elections are important and symbolic for the working-class across Europe. France is a large country, an important and strategic element of the EU, and its fortunes affect the fortunes of the working-class across Europe. A victory for Le Pen or Fillon would be a defeat not just for French workers, but for workers across Europe. By contrast, a victory for Hamon, would be a powerful boost to building a confident, forward looking labour movement across the continent. It would act as a beacon for workers on a wide scale. It would give hope for workers in Greece that the original ambitions of Syriza might now be achievable; it would give hope for workers in Spain that Podemos might now be able to follow in those footsteps, it would give hope to German workers ahead of their own elections that there is an alternative to Merkel; and it would give hope to British workers that there is an alternative to either Brexit or the old conservative EU.

Hamon's programme is not perfect. Hamon is a social democrat not a socialist. Elements of his programme, for example, the Basic Minimum Income, are utopian, but no socialist should expect that a perfect programme is developed immediately, or that workers will arrive at such a programme spontaneously. Our task is to work with the tools we have, to explain to workers along the way what is wrong, or inadequate with the programme on which they are fighting, whilst continuing to provide our support despite those deficiencies. By those means we develop the working-class itself, we earn the right to a hearing, and we facilitate the process by which the workers develop their programme.

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